Posts tagged ‘Loneliness’

Sick in Spirit When We’re Scared for our Bodies

The COVID-19 outbreak is taking a toll not only on the physical health of millions, but on the emotional health of millions, too. A new survey out from the University of Phoenix shows 4 in 10 Americans are lonelier now than ever before. 71% are worried about the health of a loved one while 61% are concerned about their own health. You combine this with 33% of survey respondents being worried about paying their bills and 27% experiencing depression, and you have the makings of not only a contagious disease pandemic, but a mental health crisis. We may be trying to avoid becoming sick in body through masks, hand washing, and social distancing, but, in the process, we have become sick in spirit.

Early in Jesus’ public ministry, some men bring to Him a paralyzed man, hoping He can heal him. Jesus does. But before He heals his body, He says to this man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). Jesus knows that this man is not only invalid in his flesh, but struggling in his spirit. He needed his sins forgiven.

What Jesus does for this man, Jesus wants to do for every man – and woman. Jesus cares about those who are sick in spirit. This is why Jesus opens His ministry with not only miraculous healing, but profound teaching. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). It turns out that poverty in spirit is just as important to Jesus as infirmity in body. And so, to those who are lonely, Jesus becomes a friend. To those who are worried, Jesus brings peace. And to those who are depressed, Jesus shows empathy. After all, His soul, too, was once “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).

Some 1,000 years before Jesus, King David praised the Lord as the One “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). David knew the Lord cared about all of us and all that is us – both our spirits and our bodies. More than that, David had hope in One who, in his day, was still to come come – a God who is spirit, but would one day take on a body to walk among our bodies and heal them and to love us in our spirits and forgive them. God cares so much about spirit and body that He comes in Jesus, who is both spirit and body.

And so, whatever COVID-19 may be doing to you – whether in your spirit or in your body – you have One who is both spirit and body to see you through. And He will.

April 20, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Deadliness of Loneliness

Loneliness is killing us – literally.  This is what a lengthy article in the National Post argues:

Studies suggest loneliness is more detrimental to health than obesity, physical inactivity or polluted air. Chronic loneliness, and not the transient kind that comes with a significant life disruption, such as moving cities for work, or the death of a partner, has been linked with an increased risk of developing or dying from coronary artery disease, stroke, elevated blood pressure, dementia and depressed immunity.

 A study published in May found lonely people have shorter telomeres, which are found at the end of chromosomes, like the tip of a shoelace. Telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides, and shorter telomeres are considered a sign of accelerated aging.

This is serious stuff.  So, what is the solution?  Some are arguing that the solution may be pharmacological:

Studies in animals suggest that a single injection of pregnenolone can reduce or “normalize” an exaggerated threat response in socially isolated lab mice, similar to the kind of hyper vigilance lonely people feel that makes them poor at reading other people’s intentions and feelings.

 The researchers have every hope the drug will work in lonely human brains, too…

 Loneliness increases both a desire to connect with others, and a gut instinct for self-preservation (“if I let you get close to me, you’ll only hurt me, too”). People become more wary, cautious and self-centered.  The idea is to help people see things as they are, “rather than being afraid of everyone,” [neuroscientist Stephanie] Cacioppo said.

This is all very interesting.  But I’m not sure that masking a problem medicinally is going to cure an ill socially.  The problem is not just that many of us are lonely – although that certainly is concerning.  The deeper problem, though, is that many of us are, quite literally, alone:

“Nearly 30 million Americans live alone, many not out of preference,” said Christophe Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. In Canada, the proportion of the population living in one-person households has quadrupled over the past three generations in Canada to 28 percent in 2016, from seven percent in 1951.

 Life expectancy is growing, fertility rates are falling and the population is aging. We’re marrying later and having fewer children, if any at all. Technology means we can do almost all we need to do from home without physically interacting with a single human soul.

Solutions to problems like these cannot be solved by a pill. They can only be solved by other people.

“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God once said of the first man He had created (Genesis 2:18). So, God made for him a companion in Eve. And He’s been making companions ever since. We are called both to find companions and to be a companion. We simply cannot live – at least not well – any other way.

Community is critical for so many things. It is critical to hold us accountable in sin. It is critical to encourage us in dark times. It is critical to celebrate with us good times. It is critical to help us in tough times. There are too many things in life that we simply cannot face alone.

A feeling of loneliness may be able to be helped along by picking up a prescription. A state of aloneness, however, can only be solved by reaching out to another person. So, reach out and help wipe out aloneness. Together, we’re better.

August 26, 2019 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Who Needs Friends When You Have God?

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A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that those who have a strong faith in God are often isolated from others.  Todd Chan, a doctoral student at the university, explains:

For the socially disconnected, God may serve as a substitutive relationship that compensates for some of the purpose that human relationships would normally provide.

This is an interesting hypothesis, but studies like these do not seem to provide consistent results.  W. Bradford Wilcox, the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, has found that:

…religion generally fosters more happiness, greater stability, and a deeper sense of meaning in American family life, provided that family members – especially spouses – share a common faith.

In other words, contrary to what Mr. Chan found, faith in God can actually deepen and sustain relationships instead of serving as a substitute for relationships.

Certainly, there are people of deep faith who find themselves bereft of human companionship and, consequently, lonely.  The Bible admits as much, while also seeking to offer comfort and a promise of companionship to those in isolated situations:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.  (Psalm 68:5-6)

God does indeed promise to be there for someone when they have no one.  But He doesn’t stop there.  He also “sets the lonely in families.”  In other words, He doesn’t just serve as a substitute for human companionship, He actually grants human companionship.

Christianity has always confessed a Triune God, in relationship with Himself from eternity, as the model for and the giver of deeper and better relationships with others.  This is part of the reason why Christianity first took root in the more densely populated urban areas and why it was initially less prevalent among more rural areas.  As Rodney Stark notes in his book The Triumph of Christianity:

The word pagan derives from the Latin word paganus, which originally meant “rural person,” or more colloquially “country hick.”  It came to have religious meaning because after Christianity had triumphed in the cities, most of the pagans were rural people.

Christianity first flourished in cities because those were where the largest communities of people were.  Christianity, it turns out, is irreducibly communal.

Jesus famously summarizes the whole of Old Testament law thusly:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Jesus is clear.  A relationship with God can and should lead to better relationships with others.  Regardless of what Mr. Chan’s study may assert sociologically, theologically, God is not a second-string substitute for human relationships.  Instead, a human, who had an intimate relationship with God and was Himself God, became our substitute on a cross so that we could have a relationship with God in spite of our sin.  God is not a last resort relationship when you’re lonely, but a first love relationship who promises never to leave you alone.  And there’s just no substitution for that.

September 10, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Danger of Loneliness

Loneliness is epidemic.  An old Gallup poll from 1990 found that 36% of Americans report feeling lonely.  And yet, study after study has shown that the feeling of loneliness and physical isolation are not always interconnected.   Three social scientists from the University of Chicago, the University of California, and Harvard University recently conducted a study which noted that there is a “discrepancy between an individual’s loneliness and the number of connections in a social network.”  These researchers concluded that loneliness is, at least in part, contagious.  They point to a 1965 study by Harry Harlow on rhesus monkeys.  Harlow noted that when an isolated monkey was reintroduced into a colony of monkeys, the monkey was driven away from the community.  The researchers then noted, “Humans may similarly drive away lonely members of their species…Feeling socially isolated can lead to one becoming objectively isolated.”  The idea, then, is this:  Subjectively feeling alone leads to objectively being alone.  But this is not a good thing.  Indeed, the researchers open their study with this sobering statement:  “Social species do not fare well when forced to live solitary lives.”

What three social scientists spent many years and thousands of dollars to study and discover, the Bible already knew.  From the very beginning of creation, immediately after God created the first human being, Adam, God knew, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  As I mentioned in ABC, in a twist of cross-phonological irony, the Hebrew word for “alone” is bad.  And when this word is applied to human beings, this is indeed the case.  It is bad for a human being to be alone.   And yet, at least at first glance, the case seems to be somewhat different with God.

“You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You” (Nehemiah 9:6).  “God alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). “I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by Myself” (Isaiah 44:24).  In each of these instances, the Hebrew word for “alone” is bad.  And it is used, quite proudly I might add, of God.  But when this word is used with regard to God, it is not so much used to describe God’s isolation as it is used to describe God’s uniqueness.  It is God alone who created the earth and can use His creation as He desires.  No one else has this privilege and prerogative.  God is unique, but He is not isolated.  Indeed, God’s very Trinitarian nature is evidence that He is not alone in the reclusivist sense, for He is in perfect communion with Himself.

As a reflection of the communion that God has within Himself, He had designed us to have communion with other people.  For a human being to live life alone is indeed bad – in the English sense.  This leads us, then, to some questions.  Do we have deep, meaningful relationships where we know others and are known by others?  If you are married, is your marriage strong and is your spouse you first and finest earthly companion, or are you merely two individuals who happen to be living in the same house?  For those who do suffer from loneliness, do you seek to befriend others in Jesus’ name?

God is not alone.  And we should not be alone either.  This is why Jesus’ final promise was not one of isolation, but of presence:  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  In Christ, we are never alone.  And that’s a good thing.

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May 16, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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