It’s been 17 years since Robert Putnam’s best-selling book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community sounded the alarm about societal changes driving new levels of isolation and alienation; by now, most of us know that loneliness isn’t a problem to be laughed off. Researchers warn that we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, and they aren’t being metaphorical when they speak of loneliness as a disease.
As Jennifer Latson explains in a cover article for Psychology Today, loneliness is not only rampant in our culture, and it causes serious hurt:
New research is upending much of what we’ve long taken for granted about loneliness. More than just a mopey, Charlie Brown-esque mindset, loneliness causes serious hurt, acting on the same parts of the brain as physical pain. And while past research has treated loneliness as a synonym for social isolation, recent studies are revealing that the subjective feeling of loneliness—the internal experience of disconnection or rejection—is at the heart of the problem. More of us than ever before are feeling its sting, whether we’re young or old, married or single, urban-dwelling or living in remote mountain villages.
Read the whole article.
Are churches part of the problem or the solution?
I recently met up with some guys for a drink. I don’t know them very well, but I hope to. As we were chatting, we started talking about friends, and I was surprised to find that none of us had close guy friends nearby. And we were all fairly sociable people. We had our families. We had work friends. And we had friends from childhood. But we had no close friends that we saw regularly. How can that be?
The way churches are structured seems to be part of the problem of loneliness. The typical Sunday morning worship service does not create an easy opportunity to grow close to other believers. “We cannot know or grow close to our brothers and sisters by meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes a week with a large group in church sanctuary,” Alexander Strauch explained.
And isn’t he right?
You walk into church, talk for about five minutes (or sit uncomfortably by yourself), and maybe shake some hands during the greeting time. But when do you get to develop a relationship with people?
How many years have you been going to your church? How many people there do you know well? We’re often strangers in our own congregations, aren’t we?
I think it is not only possible, but likely, that you can go to church week after week and be lonely.
So what can we do?
Strauch has one answer: “The home is the ideal place in which to build relationships and closeness” (The Hospitality Commands, p. 17).
In other words, you can love your brothers and sisters, especially the lonely ones, by simply inviting them over for a meal. “When we speak of brotherly love we must also speak of hospitality” (The Hospitality Commands, p. 18). We must speak of hospitality. That’s a challenge to me. Is it to you?
So what can you do? Strauch gives some ideas of how you can show some practical love through hospitality:
Perhaps you, like many people, want to know what you can do for the Lord or how to use your spiritual gift(s). Your home is the ideal place in which to start serving. You can invite people into your home for prayer. You can reach out to new people at church or in your neighborhood. You can help believers get to know one another better. You can provide lodging for divided families. You can show appreciation to teachers and youth leaders by inviting them into your home. You can be the “home” away from home for singles living on college campuses or serving in the military who may not have eaten a home-cooked meal in weeks or months (The Hospitality Commands, p. 18).