Loneliness and the Church

Loneliness and the Church May 4, 2023

Photo by Vusal Ibadzade on Unsplash

Loneliness is the new enemy.  Or so the latest surveys suggest.  And life in community is the solution.

In many ways this is no surprise.  Modern American cities and suburbs are more about infrastructure than they are community.  And rural America is rapidly evaporating.  So, while there are exceptions, of course, we have been spiraling toward loneliness for a long time.

And Covid accelerated the trend.  The lack of information that we possessed made that necessary.  But self-isolation became a talisman, and a not-so-scientific obsession persists in some parts of the country.  The result is unsurprising.  Even the most out-going of human beings in those settings have discovered that re-engaging the world around them has been a challenge.

From a Christian perspective, we should have named the problem with isolation from the beginning.  People should not have been forced to navigate a life-threatening illness without spiritual support, never mind die alone.  But far too many of us were cowed by the medical establishment and were trapped between two, unreasonable extremes: a materialist mindset that argued that physical well-being is the end-all of our existence and a strange brand of fundamentalism that made ignoring the challenges a matter of spiritual pride.

There was a better way through but we failed to name it.  So, now we are facing the consequences.

Hopefully, the church, the body of Christ will take note of the lessons and move forward in a new fashion.  But it will require that the members of the body of Christ grasp a few simple facts about its character:

  1. If the Christian journey is about the healing of relationships – with God and with one another – then the body of Christ is not just an instrument of healing, it is the destination.  Therefore, life in community lies at the heart of Christian spirituality.  Being church is what gathering, worshiping, serving, and celebrating is all about.  And we cannot experience the fullness of God’s intentions for us without it.
  2. But a life of healing relationships involves participation.  The consumer-model of church in which religious professionals structure an experience and the congregation consumes that experience is alien to both Scripture and the Christian tradition.  If we long for that kind of community, we need to invest ourselves.  Show up.  Open ourselves  to conversations, prayer, and worship.  We need to welcome new people and take an active interest in the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of others.
  3. If we complain that “the church isn’t meeting my needs”, that “my friends are not there any longer”, that “it doesn’t feel the same”, we are missing the point of the call to discipleship.  The church is not there to cater to our needs, though it will meet the deepest needs of our lives.  It is in serving others that the grace of God grows in us, and in connection with one another, the grace of God heals us all.
  4. The fearfulness on “boundaries”, me-time, and talk about the burdens of “adulting” suggest a lifestyle that is at odds with Christian discipleship.  Of course, boundaries of a kind are important.  Time alone can be healing.  And being an adult, not adulting, is a demanding task.  But we are called to reach out and risk ourselves.  And any reading of the life of Jesus clearly demonstrates that the call to discipleship is to serve, not to be served.
  5. But, paradoxically – or not, perhaps – a life of service can be life’s best antidote to loneliness.


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