A Gallup poll once said that Americans are ranked amongst the loneliest people in the entire world. Author Randy Frazee notes that more than 75% of Americans live in metropolitan areas, with 66% of those people living in suburbs. He says, “We are surrounded by more people than ever before in the history of our country. With these undeniable benefits in place, how could a Gallup Poll rank us amongst the loneliest people in the world?”
This is pretty remarkable. We think we have it made here. We literally have everything we need, plus some. It’s almost as if we live in a modern day Garden of Eden. Yet Americans are plagued with the injustice of being alone; not being known; living without love. Statistics show that every 2 in 5 people you interact with each day are experiencing loneliness, and may be suffering from the consequences we discussed last week.
Mother Teresa, a saint who is renown for her love and ministry towards the impoverished, once said to an American couple:
“I have seen the starving. But in your country, I have seen an even greater hunger. That is the hunger to be loved. No place in all of my travels have I seen such loneliness as I have seen in the poverty of affluence in America.”
– Mother Theresa
Our country is infected with a loneliness epidemic. But as crazy as it all may seem, when you look at our country’s values and characteristics, it comes as no surprise that we live in a culture that naturally steeps a lifestyle of loneliness and isolation. Here’s just a short list of some of the most prominent characteristics that influence our isolated culture:
Individualism – A successful, healthy person is defined by how well he or she can stand on their own without others. Life is all about you. Why need significant community if life is all about the individual?
Consumerism. The consumerist mentality is that “everything should live up to your precise expectations.” Unfortunately, this influences our take on relationships. If things don’t go as we expected with a person, we’re more prone to give up on the relationship as if it were an unsatisfactory commodity than stick through it.
Isolationism. Have you noticed the lack of front porches on houses these days? One author describes suburban households as “isolated fortresses.” If our home living promotes isolation, then it makes reaching out to others exceptionally more difficult.
Workaholism. We work 8-9 hours a day, with many of the remaining hours spent with either more activity or retreating to our “isolated fortresses” out of pure exhaustion. We’re literally “too busy” for community.
Social Media & Cell Phones. You can go to any public space and notice this immediately. Never before has a device brought the world so close together, yet pushed the living room so far apart. Additionally, social media is a great supplement for our friendships, but far too many people use it as a substitute instead.
Romance. Instead of being immersed in a community of friends, many people put all of their relational eggs in one basket with one emotionally charged romantic relationship. The problem is it’s impossible for a single person to satisfy all of one’s relational needs, so both partners still end up lonely.
Quality of Connections. Still, this isn’t to say Americans don’t have friends. In fact, many “lonely” people actually have connections and friendships. The problem is the quality of those connections isn’t significant enough to promote well-being, and could in fact be incredibly damaging.
Systems of Neglect. Lastly, there are systems that isolate people completely against their own doing. An unstable upbringing, odd social quirks, homelessness, damaging lifestyle choices, and an assortment of other systems put people into an unfair cycle of neglect potentially for generations to come.
There is so much more that can be said about these characteristics in themselves, so be on the lookout for future blogs that dive deeper into each one and their effect on loneliness.
But here’s what we need to cover first: The consequences of prolonged loneliness go against everything about our God-given design, and we live in a culture that is neck-deep in those consequences. So this begs the question: How can the Church remedy the loneliness epidemic? How can Christ’s disciples meet people’s need for significant connection with others?
I believe the answer lies within a richer, deeper, and more theologically gorgeous understanding of the most fundamental relationship than we ever heard before: