Walking our Faith: The antidote to loneliness | SummitDaily.com

Walking our Faith: The antidote to loneliness

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Walking our Faith
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

On Tuesday mornings, I get up a little earlier so I can go to 8 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s.   I’ve found that starting my day with Mass is like starting with breakfast.

But there’s another reason I enjoy going to Mass on Tuesday mornings, and that is because at the end of Mass, before I hurry across the street to work, I have a few minutes to visit with friends. It might be just a greeting and a smile, a hug and a how are you, but seeing them week after week reinforces that I am part of a spiritual community.

On Mondays, I join a group of women called the Slow Pokes to hike in summer and autumn and snowshoe the rest of the year. As the name suggests, we don’t go very far or very fast. When I’m tempted to make an excuse not to go because I am inherently lazy, I remind myself that in addition to the benefits of exercise, I enjoy these women. We talk. We walk in silence. We enjoy an easy companionship, which grows as we enter our second year.

My heightened awareness of the people in my life is because there are times when loneliness is a very real battle for me. It’s very easy for loneliness to grab a foothold in our lives whether we live alone or even when we share our homes with others. It’s very easy for loneliness to become isolation and then depression.

The antidote to loneliness, I’m finding, is community. At 5 a.m., I wake, and rather than scroll through social media, as is my want, I pick up my Kindle reader and begin Diane Butler Bass’ book “Gratitude.” In the first chapter, I underline two quotes that explain to me the unspoken quality that makes community so essential to our lives: the bonds we form with others, the necessity to give of ourselves as well as receive.

“In normal life one is not at all aware that we always receive infinitely more than we give, and that gratitude is what enriches life. One easily overestimates the importance of one’s own acts and deeds, compared with what we become only through other people.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letters and Papers from Prison”

I’m beginning my fifth year in Breckenridge, but I doubt I would have made it past my first year if it weren’t for the knitting group that meets at Next Page Books & Nosh at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays. Ostensibly, we meet to knit prayer shawls, baby blankets and baby hats, which are distributed through St. John’s church and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. But the unspoken mission of this group is to provide community — a place for women who are new to Summit County or who have lived here for years, a table to gather ’round and talk and laugh. These women provided a place for me when it was difficult for me to leave the house.

But the antidote to loneliness is not a one-way street of taking. I realized I’d become “healthier” when I was able to give back, to welcome new women to our knitting group just as I was welcomed. The antidote to loneliness is extending companionship we so dearly needed at one time, to another.

“… life is an abundance of shared gifts. We don’t really achieve. We receive. We give to each other. We are grateful.” — Diane Butler Bass, “Gratitude”

Gretchen, an old friend from high school, came into town for a quick visit Wednesday. We spoke for seven hours. The next morning, I reflected on how essential it is to have deep connections. And yet, they are difficult for me to develop. They require a willingness to be vulnerable, to bear another’s mistakes and joys, to put away my need to compare. But the reward is something that fills the empty spaces in my heart.

I have only a few relationships like that in my life, but when I experience them, I understand that they are my most treasured.

Jesus said the two most important commandments are that we love God and love one another. We learn to love one another when we are willing to give our time to be in communion with friends, that is how we learn to walk the path of love. But it’s not easy. Casual is easy. Intimacy is hard. Yet, our intimate friendships are, I believe, the most essential to a rich life and mental health.

Where do we start? Churches throughout Summit County offer opportunities to meet throughout the week. Whether religious services, contemplative prayer, book clubs, hiking clubs or ski clubs. There is something for everyone.

I encourage you to find a church where you feel at home and join a group outside of Sunday church services. Here, you will strengthen and deepen your faith, but as importantly, you will form new friendships. The antidote to loneliness is a steady diet of companionship.

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com.

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