One Is The Loneliest Number
Earlier this week I attended a conference in Chicago about fentanyl addiction, and how the local church can be more involved in helping people who are caught up in this growing epidemic. It was an interesting conference, and I left with good information, good resources, and a new commitment to having our church help in any way we can.
However, for me the best part of the conference actually happened in the hotel lobby. I was in-between sessions, and decided to grab a cup of coffee and sit on one of the couches in the lobby to get some reading done. I had just gotten myself settled when an older man came and sat on the couch next to me. He also had a cup of coffee, and a magazine to read. I was a little confused as to why he chose to sit right next to me, since the lobby was empty except for the two of us. I decided to just focus on my coffee and reading, and hoped he wouldn’t stay long.
But after a few minutes, he put down his magazine turned to me and asked, “Is this your first time to Chicago?” To be honest, my first reaction was frustration - because I had a lot of reading to get done, and not much time. I politely answered that I had been to Chicago many times, and had actually lived there for a while - all without taking my eyes off of the book I was reading. He didn’t seem to pick up on my reluctance to talk, so that led to another question: “How long are you in town for this time?”
It felt too rude to not make eye contact this time, so I looked up and answered. That started a conversation that lasted about 30 minutes - covering a wide variety of topics from the weather, to how the Green Bay Packers are going to do without Aaron Rodgers as quarterback. Right when I thought things were starting to get interesting, he said he needed to get going - stood up and said, “Thanks for the conversation. My wife passed away recently, so I don't get the chance to chat much.” It wasn’t said with any sense of self-pity, but was simply a matter-of-fact statement about his situation. It was an honest declaration of where he was in life, and I have to admit that when he said it, I had to resist the urge to stand up and give him a hug.
After he left, I found myself wondering how many other people walking through that hotel lobby were feeling the need to connect with someone, but had no one in their lives to connect with. It seems that in many ways, drug epidemics aren’t our only cultural problem - we also have a “loneliness epidemic” happening. According to a recent study done by the American Psychiatric Association, Americans suffer from “isolation related mental illness” at a higher rate than ever before. The result is that more and more people live without any significant relational contact in their lives. The irony is that this is happening when we live at a time when we have more ways to be connected than ever before. Between e-mail, cell phones, voicemail, texting, and social media, most of us have more ways to stay in touch than we can handle. Yet, even with all of that connectivity, as a society we struggle with isolation and loneliness.
And that’s not a good thing. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It’s not good for man to be alone”. From the beginning, God designed us to be in relationship. This is a truth the Apostle Paul makes clear in 1 Thessalonians 5:26 when he challenges believers to “Greet one another”. It’s a directive to slow down and connect with each other, and it's one he reiterates in 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and finally, in Romans 16:16. When we run into a directive that's repeated this many times in the Bible, we know it has to be important. And the reason this one is so important to God is because people are important to God. So whatever we can do to make people feel seen and heard and loved is going to please God.
The God we serve calls us to slow down and connect with one another. So today, let's do that. Let's ask God to bring people into our lives who need to feel connected, and then let's use those opportunities to speak words of encouragement to those folks. Through the simplest of efforts, we can encourage the people around us to know they are not alone, and that they are loved not only by our heavenly Father, but also by those of us who serve Him.