“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.”
“I am like an owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places.
I lie awake; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.’
“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Last Sunday my husband and I did something we had not done for over three months. We had dinner in the physical presence of another person. A friend of ours was coming through Boise and came to our house for dinner. We sat at one end of our outdoor table and he sat at the other. We ate, we drank, and we talked. When he left I realized just how much I have missed getting together with friends face to face.
We have been having Zoom dinners with our neighbors and Zoom Happy Hours with my husband’s children. I have been having Zoom get-togethers with friends. What we haven’t been doing is getting together “in person” with anyone else. We have been ‘playing it safe’ and we will continue to ‘play it safe’.
If you had asked me before our friend came to dinner how much I was missing getting together face to face with friends I would have said “oh, some. But Zooming is o.k.”
I really didn’t realize how much I had missed it until we had it again, even if it was for one evening.
I recently heard a Tedx talk by Dr. John Cacioppo on “The Lethality of Loneliness”. His talk hit home for me because I have been seeing more expressions of loneliness since this pandemic has cut off our physical interactions with those outside of our households. This has been especially true with people who live alone, but it can also be true for people who live with others in the same house.
Dr. Cacioppo made the point that loneliness is not just a “weakness of character”, shyness, depression, or lacking social skills. It is a physical and mental condition that affects our physical, mental, social, and genetic wellbeing. That’s right, even our genetic wellbeing. Suffering from loneliness can affect our immune system making us more susceptible to other diseases. Loneliness can severely affect the health of our sleep, our food choices and our level of alcohol consumption. In fact, while being obese can cause a 20% increase in early deaths, and excess drinking can cause a 30% increase in early deaths, loneliness can cause a 45% increase in early deaths.
So, in this time of mandatory social isolation what can we do to combat loneliness? Accept more friend requests on Facebook? No. Dr. Cacioppo makes it clear that increasing the number of friends we have on social media isn’t the answer. His answer is to “get connected”. He shared three Components of Connectedness.
The first component is Intimate Connections. Having just one other person who is trusted in whom you can confide and who can confide in you. The second component is Relational Connections. This is accomplished by simply sharing good times with family and friends. The third component is Collective Connectedness. This is becoming a part of something that is bigger than yourself. One example is volunteering.
This Tedx talk was given in 2013, long before today’s pandemic. But I believe that we can still practice all three components of connectedness while still staying safe. A number of congregations have asked for people to call and check on members, especially those who live alone. Even a phone call can help someone feel cared for and connected to the outside world. Family members have started getting together outdoors for dinners while maintaining social distancing. People have told me how they have started calling, writing, and skyping with old friends and family that they haven’t connected with in years. All of these types of connections help to combat the physical, mental, and social effects of loneliness.
Last but definitely not least, as Christians, we are taught from an early age that we are never truly alone. That no matter where we are, what our circumstances are, or whether we are in a crowd or all alone, Christ is always present with us. Always.
As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139: 7-10:
“O God, where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
The answer of course is that there is no where you or I can possibly go that we are truly alone. For God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, are always with us.
As a social species, we will always need the presence of other humans in our lives. We need to do everything in our power to cultivate those relationships so that we can stave off the ill effects of loneliness. At the same time, we need to remember that our God is always with us. That we are never truly alone.
If you choose, pray with me part of St. Patrick’s Breastplate. ...
“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger;
Christ in hearts of all that love me.
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”