We think it began with the pandemic, but in fact, anxiety has been on the rise for years. It’s close cousin, loneliness, also began way before isolation and restrictions. Strangely enough, both anxiety and loneliness are found in the lives of followers of Jesus. No-one is immune.
How can we, in our role of serving our community and revealing Jesus, increase the value of what is provided in sessions to ensure people find shalom, feel needed and known, and let their guard down enough to allow us into their lives? When you read ‘people’ – envelop together the team and the participants. We all need shalom. We all want to be needed and known. We all can let others into our lives for great outcomes.
Let’s start with ourselves. To begin with, we need to acknowledge anxiety and loneliness exist in our faith communities. We cannot hide from it, run from it, or ignore it. After reading a few books and articles on these topics, I am not an expert. What I can provide are some key thoughts to reflect upon, discuss, and commit to prayer.
Let’s start with loneliness. Try searching that word or lonely in the Bible, and you’ll come up with sparse results. When we dig deep, we notice that God made Eve after Adam named all the animals. Maybe in his naming role, Adam started feeling lonely realising animals were not the type of companion he longed for. David wrote in Psalm 25, I am lonely. Perhaps this was in a moment when he was not close to God due to sin. What about Jesus? He didn’t sin and He wasn’t relationally distant from God. However, think about the scene in Matthew 26, when He asks His friends to pray. They don’t. Scripture records His disappointment. On the cross, Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What part did loneliness play within the separation He felt from His Father. Susan Mettes, in her book, The Loneliness Epidemic, writes:
We are prone to loneliness because we were made for relationships, and not only with God. God’s design for humans always included deep relationships with other people and other parts of his creation. Loneliness is God’s design pushing us toward others, not toward austerity.
Does this mean loneliness is, in fact, good? Consider the weather. We can appreciate the sun, after the rain. We can appreciate the cold, after the heat. Susan Mettes goes on to say,
The truth is we don’t know what would happen without loneliness. But I don’t believe it would be entirely good. Loneliness isn’t just a bad feeling that damages our health; it also drives us toward a true need. Our responses to loneliness hold us together; our responses to loneliness keep us apart.
That’s a bit profound. What of anxiousness? Mark Sayers, in his book, A non-anxious presence, writes some key takeaways and a significant paragraph.
Humans are fallen. We can only be saved by Christ. We can only be non-anxious presences with God’s presence.
Mark goes on to remind us that we are always transformed in the wilderness, or in the furnace. Throughout the Bible, we see God choosing again and again to form His people in the wilderness. Pause for a moment and think of Moses and the Israelites. Pause and think of the times when you have been formed and transformed in the wilderness or the furnace of life. What is the small thing we can do to create significant impact with God? That’s a question to ponder.
A question to ask your team next time you meet. Why not forward them a link to this article, which has been produced as a blog, with a challenge to bring their answer to the next team meeting in order to consider the way in which you will offer shalom, a place where people feel needed and known, a place where you can care.
Jo Hood, Visionary/CEO
Let’s be agents of change
These aren’t a list of answers that have the potential to create significant impact, they’re a starting list of considerations
- Invite people into your home, for a snack or for a meal. Even for a play date. It’s amazing what happens around the table
- Invite yourself to the homes of others. Offer to take ingredients that make an easy lunch to share
- Accept invitations you receive from others, families from the sessions and your team peers
- Help people to make friends with other people. That requires listening and asking curious questions so you can facilitate introductions
- Jesus was willing to be interrupted and lacked privacy. Can you do that? You can be comfortable with an equal amount of time with friends who you relax with, whose presence fills you up
- Be comfortable that you are old and they are young. Or that you are young and they are old. Know that your life, your story, your hospitality and friendship is valuable and attractive
- Leave your device in your bag. Allow those you meet to monopolise your attention. Sure, show pictures of your children, your grandchildren, or your holiday, but for a short time!
- Talk about, rather than ignore, the emotions people are revealing. Don’t feel like you have to solve everything. Listen intently. Tears are okay. Loose ends don’t have to be tied up
- Be honest. Anxiety and loneliness don’t have quick fixes. Talk about the comfort you find in Jesus, Scripture, prayer, existing friendships, and new relationships
If you’d like more, we recommend
Book: The Loneliness Epidemic, Susan Mettes, Brazos Press
Book: A Non-anxious Presence, Mark Sayers, Moody Publishers
Podcast: With All Due Respect – title: The Loneliness Epidemic, 14 July 2022