When Two Pandemics Collide

I have written previously about the widespread problem of loneliness in our society.  If the statistics bear out, 40 percent of us feel lonely and left out. Loneliness may not fit the textbook definition of a pandemic, but I’m calling it one since it is so widespread.

Consider this: if you put twenty people in a room, eight of them will still feel alone. The problem grows because in most areas, thanks to another pandemic, we’re not supposed to put twenty people in a room!

Most of us have been in isolation and self-quarantine for months now. I’ll admit there’s been many aspects of this “stay at home” mindset I’ve liked. I’ve enjoyed some alone time—but there is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely.

Fay Bound Alberti, who wrote A Biography of Loneliness: The History of an Emotion, defines loneliness as  “the disconnect between the relationships we have and those we want to have.” In other words, a person can be around others and still feel lonely. Even worse, a person can have friends, but because the friendships are superficial and she feels no real connectedness with these friends, she can still feel lonely. And when we take away even the superficial relationships through “stay at home” measures, the loneliness is compounded.

In an op-ed piece Alberti wrote for Time, she said, “For loneliness to exist, two things are needed: a lack of meaning in one’s relationships (or lack thereof) and a sense of the self as separate from others.” [Source] That’s a good definition, but she offers no solution. The title of her article— “Loneliness Is a Modern Invention. Understanding That History Can Help Us Get Through This Pandemic”—fails to live up to itself.

There is a Solution to Loneliness

Although Alberti touts herself as an expert on loneliness, she offered no help for those who suffers from loneliness, nothing to help them get through a season of self-isolation. There is a solution, though, and it’s in the church—or at least it should be.

Let me prove my point using Alberti’s definition of loneliness:

A lack of meaning in one’s relationships. That lack of meaning is replaced when we come to Christ. Jesus Christ gives our lives meaning. That is no trite statement; that is gospel truth. Frankly, if you see that statement as only a nice platitude with no real teeth in it, I question if you really understand or have experienced the gospel of Christ. In Christ, we gain purpose. We gain peace—and I’m using “peace” in the full Hebraic sense of the word: completeness, wholeness, well-being.

Couple that truth with the fact that, when a person comes to Christ, he also comes to His body. The church—the body of Christ—is comprised of others who have experienced the same peace and wholeness in Christ. We are made one in Christ. We share a common bond in Him. Christ gives your life meaning; He gives my life meaning; and He gives our lives meaning together.

A sense of the self as separate from others. There is no separation from others when we are in the body of Christ. While we are individuals. we are also a part of a whole.

“We who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another” (Rom. 12:5).

As a body, you belong to me, and I belong to you. We are in this Christian life together.

When the church truly lives out the gospel and we fully embrace the gospel that we share together, loneliness is non-existent in the church. Unfortunately, we don’t always live out the gospel and we let individuals go unnoticed. Or we’re only looking to connect with those “just like us.” Or … well, there are plenty of reasons we fail to practice oneness and wholeness together, but it boils down to the fact we’re imperfect human beings.

While some may lay the burden on the lonely person—”Just get with it and come join our group”—the burden lays on the rest of us. Let’s not think of ourselves; let’s be intentional and think first of the other person.

“Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).

Let’s go out of our way to pull the lonely person in; let’s be other-focused and intentional in making connections.

But we’re supposed to be keeping our distance …

How do we reach out and pull in the lonely person when we’re encouraged to be physically distance?

I found a simple and amazing solution, and it’s an app I’m sure you have on your phone. Next to the apps that let me check the weather, do calculations with fractions, and find a Dunkin Donuts near me is an app that … are you ready for this? … AN APP THAT LETS ME MAKE PHONE CALLS!

Yes, it’s that simple. Call the person. Talk. Ask questions. Don’t talk about yourself. Ask questions about them. Get to know who they are, and the connections will form. It’s that easy.

The vast majority of us will never suffer directly from the coronavirus, but a large number of us suffer from loneliness. While scientists work on a cure for COVID-19, we can put into practice the cure for loneliness: pick up the phone and call.

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt. 25:40).

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