Walking Our Faith: The danger of loneliness and what you can do about it (column)
Walking Our Faith
This week taught me a lot about the power of community.
On Tuesday evening, I joined 40 other concerned citizens at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church for an inter-faith prayer service. The service was put together on a moment’s notice by Nancy Kinney, Carol Gerard, Loren Pierce Coleman, Robbert Franken and led by the Reverend Charlie Brumbaugh, to pray for immigrant children who have been separated from their parents through no fault of their own.
There were pastors and priests from at least four different local churches, as well as their congregants. While we may differ in our approach to God, we were united in our love for God, our community and our desire to lift up those who are hurting.
On Wednesday morning, I read a few articles on loneliness in the New York Times.
On Wednesday evening, I hosted a Catholic study group at my apartment. I made dinner for eight, we ate at a table outside on the deck, watched a Formed.org video on the Eucharist, and talked together.
During the week in which the separation of children at the border was headline news, I remember feeling both angry and helpless. The power of Tuesday’s inter-faith prayer service at St. John’s affirmed that I was not alone. By joining my voice with others, I felt stronger — not isolated — hopeful.
An interesting point from one of the articles on loneliness was it urged people who were holding Fourth of July parties to invite a friend who might otherwise be spending the holiday alone, because the Fourth is generally a family-and-friends holiday, and some people simply might not have family close by.
As I cleaned the kitchen after my guests had left on Wednesday evening, I felt as nourished by the company and conversation as I had by the food. I receive great joy in feeding others and am blessed by the nourishment of God’s word, shared with others.
I remember watching a TED talk about the most critical predictor of longevity. It wasn’t diet or exercise, it was our ability to build and maintain loving relationships and vital social ties within our community.
At the other end of the age spectrum, research has also demonstrated that children who are abandoned early in life are developmentally delayed, develop difficulties in building emotional bonds, and are more likely to fail in school and in careers than children who enjoy nurturing environments. Yet our government knowingly created exactly these circumstances in the children ripped from their parents.
God created all of us. Jesus died for all of us. Our willingness to pray for people not like us, to serve people not like us, to show respect and compassion and offer help to people not like us, demonstrates our willingness to be obedient to God’s commands.
God calls me to leave my home, or invite people into my home, to participate in community. When I find God in other people, I find him in myself. When I recognize the face of God in the people I meet in a prayer service, I must also recognize God in the face of the immigrant children.
When we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we are not only called to serve those with whom we agree, or who meet our standards. It is our duty to serve everyone God puts in our path. God calls us to treat one another with the same dignity, respect and compassion we believe we deserve, even when we don’t.
Perhaps that is why the pictures of immigrant children torn from their mothers’ arms created such a virulent reaction. Whether we have strong religious beliefs, or none at all, we know it was morally wrong. As a nation, this moral corruption will rot us at our core.
And yet, what I understood on Tuesday evening, as I stood with people of different faiths, but united in purpose, is that even the smallest gathering of compassionate souls can be a spark of light which overcomes moral darkness.
Jesus Christ was called the Light of the World, the light that shatters the darkness. We are called to follow his example.
There will be times when we feel lonely and believe no one can understand our isolation and pain. There will be other times when, safe in the embrace of friends and family, our loneliness is forgotten and blinds us to the isolation of others. Whether it is our pain, or the pain we see in someone else, let us embrace our need for community. We are stronger together.
We flourish when we are nourished in our community. When we give love, we receive love. Especially when that love is offered to a stranger; we have all been strangers desperate for compassion, at some point in our lives.
Research has proven what Jesus taught, that as we love one another, as we treat the alien in our midst with dignity, we nourish ourselves, we nourish others, we build a better world.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge.
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