Can you remember back about two years, when none of us had ever heard of the coronavirus? Thoughts of COVID-19 had never crossed our minds. These days, however, the latest pandemic developments dominate newspaper and TV news coverage. We can’t escape the frightening reports. At the same time, as this global crisis continues, I wonder if there’s an even greater “pandemic” that’s getting no attention.
I’m referring to a problem that actually began building long before the first words about the virus were uttered – the pandemic of loneliness. One example is social media and how it has come to dominate many of our lives.
They have created an artificial environment when we can have hundreds – even thousands – of “friends” and still be desperately lonely because we have no one with whom to talk and confide on a deep, personal level.
We’ve been bombarded by the statistics about COVID-19 deaths and the millions of other confirmed cases. But the realities about the impact of shutdowns, work stoppages and social isolation have not received nearly as much notice. People who regularly received support and fellowship from church, as well as other social activities, have understandably felt alone, even abandoned.
Suicides, drug overdoses, domestic violence and emotional breakdowns have escalated dramatically. It would be overly simplistic to blame those solely on the pandemic, but experts confirm it has been a very significant factor in the alarming increase of these and other social ills.
From the first moments of creation, God has underscored the importance of relationships. Referring to the eternally existing Trinity, Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth….’” And soon after He formed the first human, the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
Granted, some people are more sociable than others. Extroverts, by nature, need to be around people to remain energized while introverts – like me – prefer our interactions with others in smaller doses. But we all need to be around other folks to remain mentally, emotionally and even spiritually healthy.
Social media can be useful, but only to a limited degree. According to Facebook, I have more than 1,000 “friends,” but most of them I’ve never met in person. I could probably pass many of them on the street and not recognize them. And I wouldn’t want to have 1,000 real friends with whom I interact on a regular basis – who has time for that?
But we do need friends, including but not limited to family members. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!... Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Proverbs 27:17 expresses a similar sentiment: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Imagine attempting to sharpen a knife blade without something to hone it. Some of my most enjoyable times at work occurred when a small group of us gathered and engaged in creative friction.
The need to do whatever we can to escape the plague of loneliness is even more critical spiritually. One of my favorite passages concerning this is Hebrews 10:24-25, which admonishes, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
During His earthly ministry, Jesus probably could have been a loner, walking from town to city by Himself, but He chose to select followers. This was in part to train them for carrying on His work after His death, resurrection and ascension. However, being both fully God and fully man, I suspect even Jesus needed the companionship and daily interactions. He often recruited them by simply saying, “Come and you will see” and “Follow Me” (Matthew 1:35-51).
It's important to recognize our own need for personal interactions that go far deeper than comments and “likes” on social media, even during a global health crisis that has impeded many of us from spending time with one another as we have in the past. We should also be sensitive to the needs of others, especially folks in places like nursing homes and hospitals, who might feel forgotten and unwanted.
Recently I found an apt observation by Charles Ringma in his book, Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen. He writes, “We are called to serve the world in which we live. Such serving is not simply a matter of techniques. It is also a matter of personal encounter. It is a matter of drawing close. It is a matter of care.” Think about that.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.