by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference
Facebook, Twitter, and Messenger, are all venues used to create connections, a sense of community and “family”. However, the feelings of loneliness and disconnection continue growing in our culture. According to research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (August 5, 2017; apa.org), loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, and their impact has been growing and will continue to grow.
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”
Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study. In addition, the most recent U.S. census data shows more than a quarter of the population lives alone, more than half of the population is unmarried and, since the previous census, marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined. “These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness,” said Holt-Lunstad ( www.apa.org: Session 3328: “Loneliness: A Growing Public Health Threat,” Plenary, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017;Washington, D.C. ).
Many talk to at least one person daily, carry out business transactions, and may even attend church; however, loneliness is a growing public health threat. The apostle John chose to write the following narrative in the life of Jesus: “The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!”37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them. They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day. (John 1:35-39 NLT)
In 1854 there were 30,000 homeless and orphaned children in NY. Why? The immigration population boom had created overcrowding, poverty, disease and death. There were no social welfare programs, no foster homes, no safety nets for orphans and the police didn’t know what to do.
Finally, two charity organizations created a system known as “The Orphan Train”. Homes were found for the orphans throughout the Midwest. They were transported by trains to small towns and farming communities. Between 1854 and 1929, after 75 years running, more than 150,000 children were transported and taken to other parts of the Midwest. A lottery system was created to receive these orphans but there were more orphans than adoptive families, so the children would be lined up at the train station for potential parents to come inspect and select them.
However, the system was flawed, siblings were divided, families split, no records were kept as to where the children were going and there was no adoptive family screening to ensure the orphans were delivered to loving homes.
Jesus notices that two disciples are following Him and He stops and asks them what they want. They ask: “Where do you live, where are you staying?” Jesus could have said, on Main & Seventh. Instead, Jesus said, “Come and see”. Why?
Instead of simply reciting a geographical address, Jesus offers the two disciples the experience of INCLUSION and we all know how wonderful this feels. When you are included you feel valued and special, like you matter to someone. We have all enjoyed this experience when we are invited to a wedding, to a super-bowl party, or to someone’s home for dinner.
Do you remember being in elementary school and being invited to come play and be a part of a team. How did you feel? Do you ladies remember when a girlfriend invited you to come to her birthday party or sleep over? How did that feel?
On the other extreme of the continuum we find the experience of EXCLUSION. Being excluded, left behind, or ignored is felt in the deepest parts of our soul. One can feel rejected and dehumanized.
We spend most of our lives experiencing inclusion and exclusion. We first learned how to navigate these experiences at home with our parents. There were times they included us in a family activity. “Come let’s watch a movie together”; other times they excluded us, ‘It’s your bed time you must go to bed”. “No, I want to stay and watch TV with you guys.” “No, you need to go to bed cuz it’s mom and dad time now”. We gain a healthy sense of worth by being included more often than we are excluded. If you spent more time at home or school being excluded your sense of worth was affected and most likely marred.
Jesus knew that post-fall living would result in growing loneliness and social isolation, so instead of just reciting an address, He invited His disciples to hang out with Him (inclusion) for the rest of that day. Growing and thriving churches offer an experience of inclusion to everyone. People of all ages are seeking a sense of community. At the end of the day, we all need to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are valued and appreciated for who we are. Jesus taught us through His intentional way of life, that the essence of His Good News Gospel offers the experience of inclusion to all.
“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NLT)
“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3 And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:1-5 (NLT). What motivates you to live a righteous life? Hopefully an abiding relationship with Jesus that offers you the experience of inclusion. May the Lord help us to be intentional about extending this experience to others!