The Book of Genesis says that “it is not good for man to be alone.”
Ain’t that the truth! And yet loneliness is so common! According to one study, one person in five in our world today suffers from chronic loneliness. Another study estimated that one in every three New Yorkers lives alone – suggesting that this is something most of us have to deal with at one time or another. I’m not talking about whether a person is an introvert or not, rather moments we feel isolated or cut-off from others. I think of the quote by Mother Theresa who said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the worst form of poverty.”
Loneliness and isolation are common experiences that we all encounter.
We can feel lonely at parties, We can feel it at work even when in the company of others. We can feel it in the solitude of the night when no one is awake to offer us companionship. These feelings are different than the solitude one feels in times of peaceful independence. We are not talking about a personal disposition of being introverted. Wikipedia defines loneliness as “a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or the lack of companionship. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or communality with other beings both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people.”
It could be said that a church is all about leading toward companionship and connectedness.
New Church theology teaches that three essential properties of divine love are
- the desire to love others,
- the will to partner with them, and
- the effort to bless them or make them happy.
One could say these three essentials are a part of every healthy human relationship. So based on this, a church could be thought of as a healthy church to the degree that loving others outside of self, a desire to partner with others, and a desire to render others blessed shows up in every effort the church makes. As such, its theology becomes a tool used to provide healthy connection and relationships with God and with others outside of the organization. Guided my this imprint, a church can provide tremendous, joyful connection and community for people who are looking for loving relationships that are deep and that can go the distance. This is why churches are called “communions of saints,” or “communities of saints” – not because everyone in the community has it all figured out and is free from struggle or temptation, but rather they are a community that is counted in the sacredness of God’s transcendent love. There’s a soft spot in all of us wanting some sort of a companionship in our lives. We all strive for connection with another, with someone outside of ourselves. Loneliness, while uncomfortable and should by no means be sought
Getting out of a state of loneliness
I have found a teaching in the New Church theology that has been helpful for me in getting out of a state of loneliness; in the book Divine Love and Wisdom, we read that “to feel the joy of another as joy oneself – that is loving” (47). This teaching suggests to me that in order to really find connection that is meaningful with others, I must put aside my own desires, thoughts, and judgments about some one else learn to listen intently so that I might discover, understand, feel, and experience someone else’s joys as if they are my own. I have found that my own prejudgments, thoughts and feelings usually are distractions that interfere with my being able to connect with another person. This takes some effort, but when I intentionally step out of myself in order to be present for someone else in this way, I find that the downward spiral or loneliness I had been experiencing is instantly broken and replaced with a sense of connection and companionship. I have to admit that while doing it I am sure that I don’t always fully understand or comprehend what the other person is going through. I suppose this is always a weakness of interpersonal communication while we are in this natural world because there are so many ways to misinterpret the things another is saying especially when coupled with body language and what is going on in the vicinity of the communication. Communication is a skill that is honed and improved over time. However, even as imperfect as my communication skills might be, I find that the effort to experience another person’s joy (or sadness for that matter) does breakdown my own feeling of loneliness. Try it and see if it makes a difference in your life.
Helen Keller wisely said once that “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” This quote captures for me how a church has tremendous potential for bringing joy to others lives through a cooperative effort to reach out to others be deeply listening and connecting with what they are feeling. Think of how people who are feeling lonely and broken can feel renewed when others take the time to really be present with them and listen.
Does that not create the space that is inhabited by God?
(top photo by Jason Buss)