Loneliness

Got all the company I need right here Clip

When we think of loneliness we often think of people like the Grinch…angry, hurt, and wanting to be left alone…but that isn’t necessarily the case.

In the United States…25 percent, or 27.2 million of U.S. households consisted of just one person…now, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are lonely…because the more research that is done, the more they realize that loneliness has nothing to do with whether more than one person lives in the house.

In fact, One survey revealed that 1 in 5 people suffer from persistent loneliness whether they live alone or not. It also noted that while we are more “connected” than ever before because of social media and various other forms of communication, social media is actual making the loneliness problem worse.

In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger says,

“…human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money and status.”

And when we don’t feel connected we feel loneliness. John Cacioppo, the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University, believes the absence of social connection triggers the same, primal alarm bells as hunger, thirst and physical pain. Meaning loneliness tells us something is wrong…that we need social connection.

And yet many either go on ignoring their loneliness or feeling lost and unable to do anything about it…while society in general is more and more comfortable with people expressing feelings of being depressed or anxious, there is still a stigma when people express their loneliness.

Not to mention our own denial…we really like to lie to ourselves…

Billy Baker, a reporter for the Boston Globe, recently wrote an article titled, “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.”…when ask to write the article he thought the story about loneliness in middle-age men was a farce…he had friends…and then the more he thought about it the more he realized he was wrong

“…as I ran down the list of those I’d consider real, true, lifelong friends, I realized that it had been years since I’d seen many of them, even decades for a few.

By the time I got back to my desk, I realized that I was indeed perfect for this story, not because I was unusual in any way, but because my story is very, very typical. And as I looked into what that means, I realized that in the long term, I was heading down a path that was very, very dangerous.”

And, yet that is not the vision God has for those who follow Him…

When the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ first group of followers…and they started living out this new Spirit-filled existence…it broke down he barriers not only between God, but between each other.

Acts 2:46-47 says,

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

God placed these people in a community that we now call “church.” They gathered together to worship, they gathered to share resources, they gathered for more support because they were often rejected by their birth families because of their belief…

In fact, in the New Testament alone, there are 100 uses in 94 verses of the word Allylon …meaning “one another.” Because how we relate to one another in community is just as important to our spiritual lives as our relationship and connection with God. We cannot have a proper relationship with God is we are not attempting to have a proper relationship with others…

And yet, and this based solely on experience and not research…I believe the number of people inside the church feeling persistent loneliness is the same…if not higher…than those outside the church.

Why might I think it is higher?

The church attracts people who are hurting and in need of something in their lives…they usually start with God…so that means people come searching for God, but what they also need is to develop deep personal friendships with others. This is a good reason. People need something and they come looking for it.

But here are the bad reasons…

We are part of a Western Culture that prides itself on privacy, minding your own business…or at the least other people minding their own, independence, and self-sufficiency…and because we are part of this culture, we bring them with us…And when we fail to “seek first the Kingdom of God” then  we hold on to them over and against what God tells us…and far too many times we have even found ways of sanctifying them and a remaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ and forming our very own American “Gospel” that lifts these values up and supports them with mishandled Scripture.

An extension of this culture stuff is our typical human stuff where we gather and begin to have this unspoken expectation of “perfection” or at least people feel like they have to be see as “ok” when they attend church…so they either don’t attend or they hide their brokenness.

So we have this Loneliness crisis…in our culture at large and in our local churches that are meant to represent Jesus Christ and His Kingdom…and in many ways we aren’t getting it done…

So let’s be honest, community is hard. There are conflicts…they are differences of opinions…community is uncomfortable…it takes time and sacrifices on our part…we run the risk of being hurt…in order for it to work we have to let people in…

And at the core…this is a heart issue

Sin keeps us from community. 

Genesis 3:6-7 says,

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

The very first consequence of sin’s entrance into our world is that it drove a wedge between the man and the woman God had created. They had been able to see each other, talk deeply with each other…not they felt the need to hide, to cover themselves…and not just hide from each other, but hide from God.

Sin, at its core, destroys our relationships not just with God, but with other people. It isolates, alienates, and drives us away.

And it continues to do that today.

Our sin keeps us from being in life-giving relationships with others…our sin keeps us separated from others…we don’t want others to find out something about us, we hide the real us because we fear they might not like us, we don’t trust people, we don’t love, we can’t stand to be wrong so we avoid them, we can’t hear another opinion without judging or believing that other person is “less than” in some way…the list goes on and on…

And we tell ourselves…It is THOSE people who have the problem…but far too often the problem lies inside of us. We have something deep inside that needs healing.

Take the Grinch…he was angry, he was lonely…but He wasn’t the problem it was the Whos who were the problem. And because the Whos did have their own issues, they had done a lot of things wrong, it was easy to make it all about them and disregard his own role.

Other people’s sin can separate them from us…we can only control our part in the process…that’s why you and I are called to constantly reflect on ourselves…our patterns of behavior…and then confess it to God…to seek forgiveness and healing.

But let’s also address the other side of this…

Sometimes it is other people’s sin…they don’t trust us and avoid us, so they hurt us and pushed us away, they are unhealthy, they are cantankerous and mean…so that interferes and creates another set of issues for us…

Past hurts keep us from community.

I’m not going to really address to deeply that other people’s sins affect us other than the fact that their sin creates hurt in us. I’m doing that because you can’t control or confess other people’s sin…you can only control how you deal with  your sin and how you respond to the sinful behavior of others.

Whether the hurt is real or perceived…you and I have suffered due to relationships with others and due to their emotional baggage and sin.

As a pastor, I hear it all the time…the church hurt me…but when you press them you find out more you find out it wasn’t necessarily the church that hurt them…it was one or two people attending a church that hurt them. They said hurtful things. They treated them poorly. They rejected them.

We have all been part of relationships where the other person no longer wanted to continue a relationship with us…we have all been hurt or betrayed.

And the real question we have to answer is how are we going to respond to that hurt?

Often we hide it, bury it deep, try to “buck up” and keep going, ignore the pain…but the only way to really get through that pain…is to face it head on…grieve the loss of that friendship…acknowledge how painful that broken relationship was…allow yourself to fully experience that hurt…and then begin building again…begin healing.

See, past hurts can be handled in two ways…rejected and ignored…or dealt with and learned from…

The first way actually causes more pain, and begins to build. It is like adding a layer of crust to the outside of your heart. And every time you are hurt you begin to add layer upon layer until you don’t feel as much anymore. And while it may keep you from feeling the pain of hurt…it really does far more damage to your life overall.

The second way is to deal with it, learn from it, and try again. Yes, you will be hurt again because being in relationships are risky…but then again, you get to find relationships along the way that bring you joy, relationships that help you grow and learn and be more fully who you are meant to be…

Conclusion

Here is what I know…I have been part of the church for a long time…I have been a pastor or leader for most of that time…I could tell you stories about how I was treated or ministry friends of mine have been treated not to mention the stories you or your friends have experienced at the hand of people inside the church.

And maybe I’m naive, because I keep coming back, and part of it is that I just want to be obedient and God says we are supposed to be part of a faith community… I believe the church is meant to be the epicenter of life-giving relationships in our lives. More so than our biological families.

The words of Psalm 68:4-6 still challenge me, and I believe they challenge anyone who wants to be part of the church because we are part of this process…

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,

extol him who rides on the clouds;

rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,

is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families,

he leads out the prisoners with singing;

but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

And when we try to go it alone…do things on our own…we suffer consequences. Yes we have experienced pain and hurt trying to develop relationships, but our psyches still won’t allow us to go it alone. God won’t let us go it alone.

Yesterday I was watching a video on prayer. The guy’s name is Evan Howard, he is a Vineyard Pastor, and He said, “The only way of becoming a person of prayer is to cultivate a real relationship between the real us and the real God.” Evan Howard.

And that’s true, but I wanted to adapt that…because the only way to free ourselves from loneliness…the only way to participate in this community God calls us to be part of is to cultivate a real relationship between the real us and a real someone else.

There is a spectrum of in between…but God’s ultimate goal is for us to be real with other people who are being real and then live and worship and function in community.

Our sin, their sin will get in the way…

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