Two outs. Bottom of the 9th. Game is tied. You’re all alone when the ball is lobbed your way. Long practices. Sweat and tears. Weight lifting. Perseverance. Wins and losses. Your team has your back. They’re cheering you on. It’s baseball.
Two outs. Bottom of the 9th. You’re down. And you’re all alone when life is lobbed your way. You’re drowning in the pit of comparison. You’re single and want a mate. You lose your job. You’re battling addiction. You’re fighting to make ethical career decisions. You’re up to your hairline in debt, which is higher for some than others. Your child walks down a dark path. You’re gripped with pride. You look left, right, up and down. You’re all alone. There’s no team. It’s life.
I know both scenarios well. And unfortunately, the second one rings true for many Christians. They’re grinding through life, wrestling with a legion of difficult circumstances. And doing so alone.
They cling to verses like I Corinthians 10:13 and Psalm 147:3, but honestly, the ones I hear from need more than Scripture. I’m not attacking Scripture. Please don’t go there. I’m giving you an honest reflection from years of talking with hurting people.
For years, this was my story, in fact. For more than a decade, I battled an addiction to pornography. I fought alone. I often wondered if I was the only one who struggled with this. Here, in a place of isolation and doubt, the evil one thrives. His attacks are much stronger without a support system.
The church is packed full of Christians enduring these vicious attacks. It’s an epidemic. I don’t think that’s a stretch.
The church is packed full of Christians wading through all types of struggles alone. It’s an epidemic.
In the beginning, like the first book of the Bible, God creates the first human, Adam. Immediately, God sees a problem. Adam is alone. In response, God says “It’s not good for man to be alone.”
Don’t underestimate the weight of these words. This is the first time God realizes something isn’t good. And he promptly provides Adam with a helper, a mate, a companion.
The power and importance of community is on full display in the opening chapters of the Bible.
A one man show is no show at all. It’s a recipe for failure. Somehow, the church forgot this.
Don’t tackle your problems alone. It’s a recipe for failure.
Between business lunches, carpool lines, social media feeds, studying for the big exam, we have little time to notice those in pain and isolation. Enslaved to our packed schedules, we walk right past the single young adult who questions her self-image, the new mom running on minimal sleep and a lot of fear, the good friend whose addiction to porn or pain killers is tearing his marriage apart.
We’re a lonely generation, something I fear will define us years after we’re gone. And in the process shape generations to come.
This narrative doesn’t have to define us, though. We can become a generation that doesn’t allow silence and isolation to win, choosing courage and vulnerability instead.
We can be known as a generation that ceases to be enslaved to schedules, choosing instead to create space for others.
We can be known as the generation that asks “How are you doing?” and actually means it. Rather than some alternative form of hello, this question becomes an opening door for healing.
Maybe your life is chalked full of fulfilling relationships. Praise God. Maybe you’re involved in a life-giving community of Christ-followers. Maybe your family is a strong support system for you, a nonjudgmental outlet for your deepest struggles. Yes and amen.
If this is you, count your blessings. But also know you’re in the minority. I want to challenge you to pay closer attention. Notice your surroundings and specifically the people who fill them. Many of them are navigating difficult times. And they’re doing it alone. This shouldn’t be so.
I want to share 5 ways to combat the isolation epidemic in Christian culture and become instruments of hope and healing.
1. Take your conversations below the surface.
When was the last time you went below the surface with someone? Friend, spouse, whatever. How often do you break through the awkwardness and ask about someone’s heart or the state of their marriage? Discussions about the weather, your favorite sports team or the latest episode of This Is Us have their place. But they’re not transformative. Someone you know could be wading through dark waters, and they’re one below the surface question from healing.
2. When you tell someone you will pray for them, actually do it.
How many times do you tell someone you will pray for them — and never do it? Both hands raised here. I’m so guilty of this. Shoot, why wait until you until get home to pray for someone? Why not pray with them on the spot?
If someone trusts you enough to share their struggle, you should respect them enough to pray for them. God is the Great Healer, after all. James 5:16 illustrates this powerful truth. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
3. Share a meal.
Jesus used the table as a primary context for his ministry. At the table, everyone was welcome. It was more than a communal thing, though. The table was a place of healing for everyone from tax collectors to Pharisees to his closest followers. And the table continued to be a central component of the early church.
My wife and I try to have people around our table as often as possible. We’ve probably witnessed more break throughs in this context than any other. Admittedly, we love to host and my wife loves to cook. This might not be your thing. No worries. Order takeout. Meet at McDonalds or Chick-fil-a (shhh..don’t tell anyone, but Chick-fil-a plays instrumental Christian songs over the speakers…it’s a surefire way to amp up the emotional intensity…you’re welcome).
The table’s healing power travels well. Take advantage of it.
4. Kick it old school. Send some snail mail.
Look, I’m a new school guy. But I’m not beyond old school ways, especially if they’re effective. Remember the ancient practice of snail mail? If you’re under 25, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. You see, back in the day, we sent mail…never mind. Just google “snail mail.”
For those in isolation, struggling through hard times, what a gift to be reminded that God created the church to be your team. I’ve received a few hand-written letters over the years, most of them I still have. Somewhere.
An old-school letter isn’t just about words. It also connotes time and intention. The receiver will take this as a gift, a reminder that they’re not alone. And you don’t have to be Shakespeare or write an emotionally-charged short story. A few hand-written words on a card say more than a thousand via e-mail or text message.
5. Move beyond social media. Sit down with people, face-to-face.
We live in the most connected, least connected time in history. Weird, paradox, I know. Sad as well.
Many people run around with bucket loads of online friends and very few real ones.
Who’s that acquaintance you’ve been wanting to know more about? Who’s that lady sitting all alone in front of you? Who’s that family who recently experienced loss? Rather than stalking them on Facebook or Instagram, why not meet them directly, like face-to-face? Maybe you arrive early for worship and look for these people. Find a seat and ask God to reveal someone you need to meet. Do the same at your local coffee shop or workplace.
No need for Aristotle-esque wisdom or sermons about hope. Just introduce yourself. Let the person know you’re praying for them and if she needs a listening ear, you’re willing to lend one.
No man is an island. We need one another. Let’s not jig through life wearing blinders. Instead, let’s open our schedules and hearts, looking for those drowning in despair, depression, doubt or addiction. Be a source of healing for someone. Change the narrative, not because narratives matter. But because people do.
It’s your turn. Do you have any suggestions or practical steps to help our brothers and sisters who feel alone and isolated? Leave a comment below.
Grace and peace, friends.
“1. Take your conversations below the surface.
When was the last time you went below the surface with someone? Friend, spouse, whatever. How often do you break through the awkwardness and ask about someone’s heart or the state of their marriage?”
So often when people ask “How are you?” my response is the same, “Busy.” What a lame response. Deep down there’s always so much more going on in my life that never seems to surface in my conversations. Even with close friends, I find that we don’t always get below the surface. Don’t get me wrong, we talk and we do connect but there’s so much more there. Recently, I have been intentional about trying to change this and so this article comes at a time when I have been exploring how to be better at it. Thank you for sharing!
Joseph, thanks so much for your comment and especially for your transparency. I think if we’re honest, we could all be more intentional with our conversations. I definitely need to improve. Blessings.
I so agree with Joseph! And, although “busy” is a truthful reply, I find “fine” to be equally a throwaway response when asked “how are you doing?” I try very hard to say something less automatic and more thoughtful, like “I’m doing well”, because this usually elicits another question, like “really? Tell me about it.” When people say “fine” to me, I try to delve deeper. If the person is a close friend, I’ll ask them to give me a less canned response; I’ll ask, “no, how are you *really* doing?”
I am also trying to put the cell phone away when people talk to me; no checking texts if the tone goes off, no looking at the screen if the light goes on. Giving the person I am speaking with full attention. And I appreciate it when people do it for me as well. I feel my time is respected.
Number 2: when you tell someone you will pray for them, actually do it.
When I say that, I have found that The Holy Spirit immediately convicts me to pray right then! Because, in the past
I have walked away, many times, and forgot to pray. I have found it comforting to learn to listen to The Holy Spirit, who lives in every Christian. God has not left us alone, but we need to believe it, and walk in His love and know we can talk to Him at all times.
Bob, I would agree. I wish I could say I followed through every time, but I unfortunately I haven’t. When I do pray for people on the spot, it’s a moving experience, both for myself and the person I’m praying for. Thanks for your comment!
I loved this article! One thing that has helped me find community and fellowship is finding brothers in Christ who are on the inside of me. That was a huge leap of faith for me but has paid off tremendously. We open up to each other and are able to bear each other’s burdens, admit wrongs, offer encouragement, and sharing how God is using us! God intended for us to be relational with others and not to be alone.
Well said, Mitch. Having people in our lives who know our heart keeps us accountable. Thanks for the comment!
Sunshine aka Billeen Pruett
A suggestion with your first cup of coffee each morning take a little time to reflect and pray ask to be used by God and led by spirit Make the priority for your day look for and do random acts of kindness under any circumstances
Valerie, Bayside at Adventure
It took me a couple of weeks to get to this devotional, but I knew I had to read it! Good job! I would add “be invitational.” I have a large group of good friends that continues to grow because we plan get-togethers and go to events on a regular basis. I notice single women in my age group, and tell them about our next gathering. If we pay attention, the Holy Spirit will show us who to talk to, just as you said in your article.