Loneliness vs Community: The Gift of the Church

“America is suffering an epidemic of loneliness. According to a recent large-scale survey from the health care provider Cigna, most Americans suffer from strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of significance in their relationships. Nearly half say they sometimes or always feel alone or “left out.” Thirteen percent of Americans say that ZERO people know them well. The survey shows that loneliness is worse in each successive generation.”

Think about that! Nearly half of Americans say they sometimes or always feel “left out” or alone. And 13% say that ZERO people know them well! What a sad state of our contemporary society today!

These words were from the beginning of the article “How Loneliness is Tearing Us Apart” in the New York Times yesterday. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska goes on to say “loneliness is killing us,” literally, “with skyrocketing rates of suicide and overdose deaths in America. This year, 45,000 Americans will take their lives, and more than 70,000 will die from drug overdoses.” And to combat this loneliness, people are finding a sense of community online through the “polarized tribes forming on the left and the right in America. Essentially, people locate their sense of “us” [online] through the contempt peddled about “them” on the other side of the political spectrum.”

“Why are we becoming so lonely? One reason is the changing nature of work. Work is one of the key sources of friendship and community…. Yet the reality of the workplace is rapidly attenuating, as people hop from job to job, and from city to city… There’s also a pervasive feeling of homelessness: Too many Americans don’t have a place [a community] they think of as home — a “thick” community in which people know and look out for one another and invest in relationships that are not transient.

Sasse used a phrase coined in Sports Illustrated, how people increasingly lack that “hometown gym on a Friday night feeling.” We don’t have a place to gather together in a common spirit with our neighbors and community where we could lay aside certain differences — especially political differences — and connect with other people. Many Americans don’t have a place or community that creates a “deep sense of belonging.”

The article ends with Senator Sasse saying that “the trick is “learning how to intentionally invest in the places where we actually live.” In other words, being a member of a community isn’t about whether I [live in a small town and go to the Friday night game.] It is about the neighbor I choose to be in the community I wind up calling my home. Each of us can be happier, and America will start to heal, when we become the kind neighbors and generous friends we wish we had.”

Reading this article “How Loneliness is Tearing Us Apart” - especially during Thanksgiving weekend when many people spent beautiful time with their families, while so many other people sat alone on Thanksgiving day with no one to share the special national holiday with – made me think about the great blessing we all have to be a part of the Church! I look at our own Saints Constantine and Helen Church Family in Webster, and I believe that this is a community in direct response to the epidemic of loneliness which contemporary society suffers. The Church is NOT simply a building. The Church is a FAMILY; it is the FAMILY OF GOD which offers a deep sense of community to a broken world. Our Church Family is a place where people can find belonging, where we can feel accepted and loved for who we are, despite any brokenness or sinfulness we may have. The Church is a place where we can feel cherished, valued and respected. Above our, the Church is a place which can dispel the darkness and evil of the world, including the extreme loneliness many people feel, and experience the eternal and divine love of God. The Church helps us realize we are a part of a very special family – a family not only with the friends we meet every Sunday, but a family that is worldwide. I have traveled in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central America and the Middle East, and wherever I have gone, I have been welcomed with love by people of this beautiful worldwide Family.

And the love and belongingness we feel as a part of this family extends even beyond its global reach. We are a part of an eternal family that embraces all the faithful who have gone on before us – including our loved ones who have passed, as well as all the faithful saints who are a part of God’s holy Church. Whenever we come to Church on Sunday or any day to worship the Holy Trinity, we gather together with the saints of God, and realize we are never alone! “We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who make up God’s blessed family. We have a loving Father! We have our Lord Jesus Christ as our Brother and Friend! We have the Holy Spirit abiding in us! And we have a communion of saints, in heaven and on earth, who make up our great big eternal family. WE ARE A PART OF THAT FAMILY and we need to remember that we are never alone!!!

The Church, when we actually understand what the Church is, and when the local Church truly acts like the Body of Christ and lives out its mission as the Family of God, is surely an antidote to the epidemic of loneliness in our society today. In fact, the Church is the greatest treasure and blessing we have in our lives! It is the community that unites us to our Creator, and unites us to one another, in a communion of love! What greater treasure can there be?!?

We heard today’s Gospel story talk about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus even said, “It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And yet, when we realize that our true riches are something far beyond any material possessions or wealth we may possess, but instead our true riches are the treasure of faith and fellowship found in the Church Family, in the Body of Christ, then we will realize that it is not impossible for a truly rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, we experience the kingdom of God here and now, every Sunday and every time we gather together in the loving fellowship, friendship, and community of the Church, beginning in our communion with God and continuing in the loving fellowship of faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.

The antidote to loneliness can be found in the Church! May we all discover what a blessing the Church truly is, and honestly become active in being the Church!

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