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Steadfast in Trial
We are in a time of isolation and loneliness. For some there is a deep sense of loss. Things have been taken from you. Maybe it has been this way for a while, but it has really broken you recently. Some may be sad and not know why.
Some of you are struggling with this. Some of you are doing fine. Ron Swanson “I have been social distancing since I was four.” So you may have to listen to think about how to help others.
Loneliness is a feeling of a lack of company, a lack of knowing and being known. Different expressions of it. Some may live all alone and you are lonely. Some may have people all around you and you are still lonely.
Stats on Loneliness
- Two in five Americans say they feel their social relationships are not meaningful,
- one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated.
- Loneliness affects sleep, fatigue, Concentration.
- People quarantined for more than 10 days showed significantly higher PTSD. Have never seen a quarantine for as long as what’s been going on.
- University of Chicago researchers found that loneliness triggers changes in gene expression, specifically leukocytes, the immune system cells that are involved in protecting the body from viruses and bacteria. Researchers found that chronically lonely people have an increased expression of genes that are involved with inflammation, and a decreased expression of genes involved in antiviral response. Not only were loneliness and gene expression predictable a year or so later, both were apparently reciprocal, each being able in time to propagate the other.
- Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
- Loneliness is often associated with guilt, exhaustion, fear, and withdrawal.
Loneliness is felt many times in the Bible.
- I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. (Psa 102:7 ESV)
- Lamentations 1:1 How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. (Lam 1:1 ESV)
- Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. (Psalm 25:16 ESV)
Causes are everything from persecution, sickness, war, famine, estrangement and broken relationships.
Do you know that before Corona we were in what people call a loneliness epidemic? People are more isolated than ever. More people live alone. More people eliminate relationships. Shop online. Avoid lines. Avoid the relationships we were created to have.
There is something about being around people. Something about seeing their faces, their smiles, being in their presence. It’s great to see my wife on a screen but I would rather be there to hold her hand, laugh with her, bump into her while she is cooking and I’m trying to sample the goods.
Funny that when churches first went online, a lot of churches were buzzing about it. We can reach so many. True, there are many people on periphery that may tune in online before ever setting foot in a building. A lot of people say it’s the way of the future. Maybe in some ways. But I also think this just might reveal how shallow online is. I mean Zoom leaves me exhausted. If I could have my wife next to me or on a Zoom I would take in person any time.
Why do we experience loneliness?
- God created us to be in relationship.
- Relationship With God. Created in his image. We stop looking to him, communicating with him, we are robbed of our very purpose in life. To image something means you know it, understand it, see it. It is not just the relationship of a playdough to a mold. It is relationship. He speaks to us, communicates. Gen 3:9 God calls to his people. He desires a relationship. We are to answer his call. We are to respond. Gives us his word to know him.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. (Gen 1:26)
With others. He did not create people to be alone. He made people for each other. Gen 2:18 even in the presence of God man was alone. Personally, man and woman. Socially, others depend on us in work. We communicate and bless. God often works in our lives through other people. They encourage us. Share with what is going on. Mary at the news of this child goes and tells her cousin. The disciples find the messiah and share it with others.
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper fit for him.” (Gen 2:18)
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1Pe 4:10 NIV)
- With ourselves. Search me and know me. See if there is any offensive way within me and lead me in the way everlasting. The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. (Pro 20:5 ESV). Jesus taught on tree and fruit (Luke 6)
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)
- Fall: Sin Destroys Relationships
The Fall. If community is so good, then why do we struggle with it? We struggle because of the fall. People turned from God. when we turned from God everything fell apart.
Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Gen 3:6)
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.So the LORD God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:8-9)
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Gen 3:10)
Independence. “In a world that screams negativity about dependency and glorifies self-sufficiency, loneliness is the feeling that we work hardest to avoid.” Chip Dodd. Voice of the Heart.
Sickness comes and separates us. Sin separates us from God and it separates us from other people.
Guilt and Shame. Sin produces guilt and shame. Guilt is “I made a mistake.” Shame says “I am a mistake.” And in a time when we so desperately need people it may be guilt and shame that keep you from asking. Why would they want to talk to me? They don’t care. I don’t want to bother them. Guilt leads to loneliness. Feel like you don’t measure up. I feel like reaching out for company is like saying I’m not doing well.
Disagreements can separate us. Can I just insert something here? You have probably had differences with people over the last few months. I bet you have gotten upset at some one because of their view on Corona. Because of their view on masks. Because of their view on the election. You might just need a reset. You might have shifted to apathetic in order to survive. I’ve got to do x, y, z and I can’t figure the world out and please everybody. You might need to go and say, “I’m sorry.” It’s always difficult to apologize to someone by saying “I’m sorry but you overwhelm me.” But it might be appropriate to say, “I realize we had differences”.
This time of Corona has presented unique challenges. It created new challenges and increased existing challenges. You can’t be around others. One person said Corona has taken away peoples’ ability to hide from problems with people in their immediate vicinity. You used to be able to get a break and now you can’t.
Hurt and isolation lead to apathy. You do not find healing so your hurt festers. You become apathetic. I asked a friend at a rehab center for his thoughts on loneliness and he said, loneliness is not something his clients struggle with. They have numbed the pain. They don’t feel. They have cut off supports and don’t even yearn for it anymore.
Become like a shark. Uncaring. Sea World we would eat dinner in the shark aquarium. One time this shark is going and decides he’s hungry so he just chops on another fish, eats it in one bite and keeps on going. No emotion. No rejoicing.
I don’t care.
It doesn’t matter.
I’m so bored.
Can I tell you how bad apathy is? People think it’s not that bad, because you have not done anything negative. You didn’t hit them. Apathy fails to even acknowledge someone’s existence. It is like the person is dead to you. Haven’t done anything wrong in my marriage, I just treat her like she is dead to me. I haven’t hurt my kids, I just ignore them. I don’t hate my neighbors, I just don’t feel like being around them. It is the exact opposite of imaging our God. He loved us so much he left his throne above to die on a cross. That is love. That is interest.
All struggle with loneliness, don’t know how to act, so we hide behind our phones. If I look at my phone you can’t see me being scared of what you might think about me. It”s a crutch and it is making us more and more unhealthy. Starbucks is where lonely people go to ignore others.
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
We are not left in this place. Our relationships have been fractured, but we don’t have to stay here.
The good news of the gospel is that we separated from God, but he pursued us. We isolated ourselves, but he came after us. Like a teenager rejecting his parents to go his own way, and yet they pursue him in love. God brings us into his family. He forgives our iniquity. He dwells among us. When we have messed up he enables us to get fixed.
Loneliness is a gift. It means we are desiring more. We have moved from apathy. It points to something being right and better and also recognizing something is wrong within us. Recognition that we have been separated.
Reconciled to God
- Friend of sinners.
‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luk 7:34)
- He is with me always to the end of the age. If he is with you then you can overcome hurts. You can overcome breaks in relationships. Matt 28
Barriers are removed. One of the most isolating circumstances in ancient times was to contract leprosy. Terrible skin disease. Leprosy is a bacterial disease that was usually fatal in ancient times. Leprosy was a disease that left the body full of ulcers and open sores. Fingers would shrivel and decay. Skin would get blotchy and discolored and stink. Nerve endings would go numb leading to a loss of fingers and toes. Max Lucado called leprosy death by inches. It was gruesome, deforming, and painful. Body parts would fall off.
They would be removed from society. Would go off to live in leper colonies where they would waste away and die with other lepers. No contact with others. Jesus goes and heals him. Not afraid. Not confused on remedy. Not novel.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (Mark 1:40-41 ESV)
Jesus healed it. He moved towards it. Didn’t stay isolated. He had compassion for the man’s state. He has compassion on you.
Sickness doesn’t prevail. Isolation doesn’t prevail. Shame does not prevail. Guilt does not prevail. God is bring outcast into his presence. He makes it possible to experience restoration in our relationship with him and others and ourselves.
Jesus died for us. He died alone. He was forsaken by the father, and he was forsaken so that you might not be. He was forsaken so you could be brought into fellowship with him, so that you might connect on the deepest level of human relationship which is our relationship to God. So that you might have something to offer to others.
We have relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. We are destined for eternity with God and others.The rift in our relationship can be bridged through Christ. Barriers are torn down.
4. We pursue relationships by grace.
This is the good news that changes our life. God is with us. That is comfort. It enables us to experience the deepest level of human relationships, our relationship with God himself. We can share our hurts and struggles because they don’t define us. Grace and redemption do. We want to bring our lives into conformity to God. We do this with others.
Many times we feel lonely because people only talk about superficial things: weather, football, sports, business. What is God doing in your life? When we talk about our relationship with God we are relating on the deepest most intimate of human relationship. This is why we are talking so much about discipleship.
God also shows us that when relationships are broken we ought to be like him and pursue reconciliation. When we let relationships fester and remain cut off from others we are not like God.
We invest time and effort into relationships. It is what we were meant for.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
Community is built not found. No prepackaged community.
It’s not a Jesus and you. Jesus calls you to community and in that community you experience him. Be wise in Corona. But in an effort to protect your physical health don’t starve yourself spiritually and emotionally. You are created to be with others.
In Jesus we are One family. One body. One people. Power of words, being around someone when everything has gone wrong and they say, “It’s going to be OK.”
Ian. “One thing that we often suggest (and it sounds cliched) is to get outside of themselves by being of service, particularly where that involves helping and interacting with other humans.”
Seek to embrace and cultivate relationships. Think about how you can bless someone in your relational network. Spend time with someone.
Reset after Corona. Know yourself. Seek God. Confess to others.
There is power in relationships and community that you are robbed of when isolated. Know that. Counter it.
Know it will be hard because some are resistant right now. Some are hurting and feeling ashamed. Some are scared. Keep loving them.
We need to be the church regardless of the circumstance. We don’t stop being the church. Part of your struggle may be that you stopped doing what God called you to do. Be like Jesus. Love people. Serve them. Sacrifice for them.
There are risks. Might get sick. Might get annoyed, inconvenienced. But you also just might be brought into the fullness of life God has for you. If you are isolated you might be missing what God has for you. You may be pushing aside the support and encouragement you need.
God created us to be in relationship (with him and others)
Sin Separates us from God and others
Jesus restores what sin destroyed
We pursue relationships by the grace of God.