Many cultural observers have been calling attention to the loneliness being experienced in the West. In Britain, for example, the government has now established a “minister of loneliness” in order to deal with loneliness as a serious and growing health problem. It seems that even though we are more “connected” we have never felt as lonely. According to a nationwide study of 20,000 people by the Cigna health insurance company, nearly half of respondents say they feel alone or left out always or some of the time. 56% reported they sometimes or always felt as if the people around then ‘are not necessarily with them.'” 40% said, “they lack companionship” and their “relationships aren’t meaningful,” resulting in feelings of isolation.
Writing in the opinion page of the New York Times, Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute wrote, “America is suffering an epidemic of loneliness.” Brooks wonders if lonely people increasingly fill the hole of belonging in their lives with angry politics. He argues, “In the ‘siloed’ or isolated, world of cable television, ideological punditry, campus politics and social media, people find a sense of community in the polarized tribes forming on the left and the right in America.”
Brooks, reflecting on Senator Ben Sasse’s new book, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other” asks if the pervasive feeling of homelessness is not a big part of the problem. Many Americans don’t have a place that is home – “a ‘thick’ community in which people know and look out for one another, while investing in relationships that are not transient. We lack, Brooks maintains that “hometown gym on a Friday night feeling.” Brooks encourages us, “to intentionally invest in the places where we actually live,” with a commitment to be a neighbor in the community that is home. Brooks give this challenge, “Each of us can be happier, and America will start to heal, when we become the kind of neighbors and generous friends we wish we had.”
As Judy and I begin our new adventure, we are looking for that “hometown gym on a Friday night feeling.” There is a sense of loneliness as we go about meeting new people both in our senior apartment and at church. Philippians 2:3-4 helps express our motivation as we go about creating a “thick” community for ourselves in Brainerd, Mn. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (NLT).
How are we trying to live this out? We are both intentional about connecting. We share our impressions of the folks we are meeting. We are taking the time and energy to be with people both in the apartment complex and at church. The people we are meeting already have relationships. We are willing to take the lowest place. Jesus said, “But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:10-11).
The following flows out of taking the lowest place. First, listen to the story of others. Ask questions and show a genuine interest in their story, making the effort to remember what they shared. Secondly, take the posture of a servant. Put their interest ahead our own. “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Thirdly, above all be authentic. Don’t pretend to be anyone other then yourself. Keep the focus on the other. “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it” (Rom 12:9 – Message).