"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -Emerson

Monday, June 19, 2017

On feeling alone in our connected world

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my little sister about seasons in life and how there are times when we can start to feel so alone, even in the midst of being surrounded by people on a regular basis. Life comes in seasons and friends can enter and leave our lives. It’s funny because as she was sharing her heart on some things about friendships and how hard it can be to feel truly known and seen, I was echoing the same sentiments back. After one of my very best friends moved several years ago, I've struggled to find that in an everyday way. Almost fifteen years separate my sister and me, but we both have been wrestling with similar feelings of disconnection.

A few days later, I was teaching on the book of Galatians and a part came up about if you catch your brother in sin, and we talked about how that verse wasn’t meaning like “caught you red handed,” but rather, if you see someone struggling, drowning, ensnared or entangled in something and they need help getting out of it, you help restore them to the cross. I posed the question do you have people in your life, who know you intimately enough on a regular basis that they could even notice if you were entangled in a sin? The resounding answer, from a survey of women at different life stages and ages was no. I asked if anyone felt someone knew them to the point where they had permission to even speak to those places of struggle and sin and again, the answer was no.

And then a few days after that, I got a message from a friend that a mutual friend of ours had passed away in a very traumatic way. While there are more questions than there are answers and the investigation is ongoing, I couldn’t help but wonder how perhaps a pervasive sense of loneliness played a part in her last days on this earth.

We are the most connected generation, yet we feel more alone than ever. A study done last year found that 72%, almost ¾ of its respondents, felt lonely. An “invisible epidemic” intensified by our time spent on social media, which gives such a false sense of connection. We’ve replaced real interactions with fake ones, phone calls with scrolls. And at the end of the day, we are hurting because of it.

I think about how we all play the victim in this while also playing the perpetrator. Communities of times long ago did the majority of their daily lives together. Meals were prepared and shared together. Children were raised together. Life was lived together. Instead, today we find ourselves always going yet never really getting anywhere. Crossing the paths of so many people on any given day, yet not seeing anyone, not truly at least.

I think our issue is we’ve exchanged depth of relationships for breadth. We’ve allowed our schedules and our lifestyles to weave superficially in and out of the lives of many without the power of profound connection with a few. We sign our kids up for everything, giving us thirty minutes to one hour of surface level interactions with a wide range of people. We are involved in so many circles and spend small bits of time with several groups of people. We fill every empty crevice on the calendar for activities in which we may intermingle with many and yet at the end of the day, we feel empty and alone. Unseen. Unheard. Unknown.

It’s not that we don’t have friends. Check our Facebook page, we have hundreds of them. It’s the fact that relationships, meaningful ones at least, require the one commodity we aren’t always willing to give up: time. It’s the fact that we feel busy and therefore, we project onto others that they feel the same way, too. So, we don’t want to bother, we don’t want to impose, we don’t want to disrupt their regularly scheduled programing. And yet, they are feeling the same way, too. Busy yet alone.

The days come and go and we enter into garages and shut the door until the next day begins and we enter the same rat race as the day before. We busy ourselves with the things we think are priorities, things we think will help our kids or ourselves in reaching some sort of next level of achievement when perhaps the things we all need most is time with people who can know us on such an intimate level that they notice when we are hurting or when we are struggling or when we just can’t even.

We recognize this. We have changed language in our circles and talk about our tribe. But, the question is do we ever do the things that will give us depth over breadth, that will help us to truly experience the implications of a true tribe? Do we sit and look at the calendar and start subtracting instead of multiplying the demands, responsibilities and to do’s? Do we make the phone calls instead of a Facebook message? Do we invite over into our messy, imperfect lives and create a space for connection to be had? Do we show up for plans or do we flake out when a seemingly better offer comes along? Do we sit alone, waiting for things to become Pinterest worthy and wishing for something that we have always had the power to construct?

I’ve got a lot of awesome friends and many who I share very real moments of depth with, but yet there are times when I walk through this place and I can’t help but feel alone in it all. I can scroll social media and wonder why wasn’t I included? Or they are too busy for me. Or some other excuse that keeps me from what I long for, from reaching out, from inviting in. It takes a lot of intentional time to have the kind of relationships that make you feel seen and heard and known. It requires a certain amount of vulnerability to let people know the tangled mess your sin or your heartache has you in. It can scare us when we can’t perfectly curate our lives like we can in a single post on Instagram.

Ultimately our goal, I’ve come to realize, is to be fully known and fully loved. It’s been our desire since the garden and yet our shame in our nakedness will keep us searching for cover instead of welcoming exposure.

What do we do though? How do we stop this crazy train from spinning and spiraling and getting us nowhere?

I love this post by Jennie Allen recently:
Do you want deeper friends?
Do you feel left out?
Here is a secret about all my closest friends.... they need me and they show it and tell me that all the time. Impose yourself upon people. Assume they want to be your friend. Need things from others and assume they want to help!
Make your neighbor run to the mall with you.
Borrow the rake instead of Amazon prime it.
Save a seat at church for someone.
Swap childcare instead of hiring a sitter.
Ask a friend to tag along to chemo with you.
Tell someone you need a training partner for a race.
Ask for advice.
We lead independent lonely lives- and we don't want to bother people so we don't and we wonder why we don't have friends. Pick up pizza and pop by a friend's house tonight. If they are busy... worst case scenario- you have leftovers.

Risk. Need. Bother. It's called community.
I wonder if we will risk coming off as desperate or alone so that we can finally find what we’ve been looking for? We often think it requires making a commitment to so many, but even Jesus recognized the finite limitation of time and relational bandwidth. He had the twelve who knew Him, but then He had the three. What if we started there? Three lives we’d agree to invest in and who would agree to invest back. Three people we’d allow to see the underbelly of our everyday on a regular, consistent basis. What if we exchanged a computer screen or an iPhone for a real life, old fashioned conversation? What if we just started with three simple words: come with me? I wonder if we’d become a generation that would know what it is to be fully known and fully loved.
"One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."-Proverbs 18:24

Until next time,

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