As the song goes, “Tis the season to be jolly.” I must admit that this time of year is one of my favorites. It really is a time for celebration, family gatherings, socializing with friends. And yet there is troubling news coming out pretty often now, news that isn’t good. It seems that America is suffering from a loneliness epidemic.
Two surveys, the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, and healthcare provider Cigna reveal that most Americans suffer from a strong sense of isolation and loneliness. The Gallup-Sharecare survey involved 160,000 adults in 2017, asking them about things like financial security, social relationships, sense of purpose, and community connectedness.
Turns out 2017 was the worst year for well being than any year since the study began 10 years ago.
Nearly half of respondents in the Cigna survey said they sometimes or always feel lonely or left out. A little more than 1 in 10 said zero people know them well. Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska outlines these concerns in his book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal. He points out that 45,000 Americans will commit suicide this year, and more than 70,000 will die from drug overdoses.
Sounds more like a bleak mid-winter than joy to the world.
One question that arises out of this somber information is how this can be when we are living in the age of instant communication? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social applications offer plenty of opportunity to talk with each other, share what’s going on, develop relationships. Or so they say. And I know several people who use those apps for that express purpose.
But as another song says, “Is that all there is?”
Whenever I’m faced with perplexing questions I turn to the source of my hope, which is my faith in God, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. What does Jesus teach me that can help me make a meaningful response to the issues at hand?
The first thing that jumps out at me is that Jesus, as he began his ministry, formed a community. It seems we were created to live in community. But what does that mean, to live in community? Aren’t we doing that whether we like it or not? Isn’t Facebook a community?
When I take the next step of looking to thoroughly understanding the role of community in Jesus’ life, I can clearly affirm one thing: Community is the embodiment of self-sacrificial living. Let me say that again.
Community is the embodiment of self-sacrificial living.
Self-sacrificial living is a way of living that puts the good of the community above the good for oneself. In my prayers I often say, “Let this be for our good, and the good of all concerned.” It is the awareness that, ironically, if I am caring for the well being of the community, that sense of well being will come back to me. In other words, if I am showing compassion for my neighbor, I will also experience compassion. If I am taking time to know someone, I, too, will be known.
It’s one thing to say I have 1000 friends on social media. It is another to say I have a friend next door. Or down the block. Someone I can sit and talk with, actually sit and talk with.
Ultimately the embodiment of self-sacrificial living is at the heart of the Christmas story. Emmanuel. God with us. God makes a home with us. God creates community with us. Interestingly, the decline in well being parallels the decline in church communities. And yet, many will be drawn to church at Christmas.
Maybe it’s time to come home.