There have recently been many articles on the epidemic of loneliness in our country. The surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has reported on this public health crisis and what we need to do to address it:
“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives. Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders. Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.” (Our Epidemic of of Loneliness and Isolation)
I hear the grief felt by some that people don’t come to church in-person or online. I chime in about how people find other things to do that are episodic, distraction-oriented, or just trying to get the chores done. However, I still believe that the gospel of Christ and the community of the church are antidotes to the epidemic of loneliness. All the people healed by Jesus were isolated by their illness; surely, they were lonely. The multitudes who came to hear him preach had their days filled with hard labor and lived in precarious economic circumstances. They experienced a powerlessness that can lead to greater isolation and loneliness.
Congregations have been communities of belonging and care for centuries, even millennia. Perhaps one of the greatest actions in which we can engage is simply being and becoming a grace-filled community of belonging. What does this mean?
- when people show up for the first time, we are gently curious and glad they are there.
- we invite people to a church event without any strings or expectations that they will do more than simply attend; it could be a meal, a retreat, a zoom prayer experience.
- when people show up for the first time in a long time, we are simply glad to see them; they often feel awkward enough without someone saying, “Wow, we haven’t seen you in a long time.”
- contacting someone we haven’t seen in church or at a group gathering for a few weeks to simply say hello and how are you.
- finding, creating, and participating in opportunities that put us in the way of other people relationally.
All these things take time. In our time-obsessed, get in as much fun, work, down time, chore time society, it is a challenge to take the time needed to create communities of belonging and care. As Barbara Holmes said, “there is no drive-by (or drive thru) loving.” The primary teaching of Jesus is love; it is foundational to the Christian life. Love requires time. Sometimes love is interesting and sometimes it is boring. Always it is a choice, and it is the choice to create something that lasts beyond a life.