The CNN headline read, “Loneliness Peaks at Three Key Ages, Study Finds – But Wisdom May Help.” We are all well-aware that our culture is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. “The study also showed that loneliness is associated with declines in physical health, mental health and cognition, though this has been reported in the past.” [1]

As we flee to social media and digital communities, the resulting effect has been more distance between us.

The article continues, “Rising rates of loneliness may not be news, but the three periods when it peaks may come as a surprise: More people reported feeling moderate to severe loneliness during their late 20s, their mid-50s and their late 80s than in other life periods.”

The study found that loneliness among all three age-bands was directly correlated to a lack of meaningful friendships. The rise of pseudo-communities on Facebook, Instagram, and the like have limited our ability to have meaningful conversations and, in turn, have perpetuated a vicious cycle of our friendless existence.

This, if true, seems to imply that although loneliness is a real problem, it is a problem with a real solution, too. Scutti concludes, “Loneliness is sad; nobody disagrees with that, but it is a little bit more under our control than some people think.”

We have chosen to create our loneliness by fleeing into a false reality that never forces us to have hard, in-person conversations. We have gone it alone and have reaped what we have sown – loneliness.

Cal Newport, in his book Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology, says “You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room, or among the Ping-Pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator, to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we’ve painstakingly adapted over millennia. Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis.”

More recently I have found that when my most meaningful relationship are primarily facilitated through a digital reality, I find personal interactions outside that digital space to be difficult – maybe even awkward.

People share digitally what they would never share in person.

Can I ask about those things?

Are those pieces of information off limits since I read them and never told those facts “live?”

I am so confused.

But, as I try to relearn how to have meaningful conversations outside the digital world, I have been thinking about how Jesus, who would have certainly avoided becoming Insta-famous by turning his parables into Stories, communicated with his followers.

What could I re-learn from making my communication more Jesus-centric?

  1. We are More Patient

Can you even imagine what it would have been like to be the friend of Peter? Such a silly boy. Always wondering who was going to be first. Swearing he would never flee. Lying when asked if he knew Jesus. And, the running to hide in an upper room when life got tough. Yet, Jesus was patient. I mean REALLY patient.

Well, Jesus did make him recommit to follow him three times – after all, he had denied Jesus the same number of times. In John 21 we read,

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus was patient – we should be with each other, too. These digital communities create an easy exit from friendship – the unfollow. Jesus would say, “Be patient!” We were made for relationship with our Creator and each other – give both time…they are worth it!

  1. We are More Direct

Jesus was not a pacifist. He was gentle. He was kind. Yet, he cursed the fig tree for not producing fruit. And, he flipped a table during Passover – probably leading to his own death.

I am not suggesting we flip the table at Starbucks. But, we would certainly benefit from more direct communication about what we need from friendships.

Do you need more time? Tell them!

More meals? More questions? More listening? More just showing up?

Tell them!

The Devil dwells in secrecy and shadows – Jesus is the light. Put things in the light and you will find that intimacy and authenticity are bred.

Two more quick lessons.

  1. We are More Forgiving

The adage goes, “Forgive but don’t forget!” Well, that is really stupid.

Jesus was quick to forgive AND to forget. Good thing – his followers were frequently in need of both. The Psalmist promises that the Redeemer will make our sins, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

We are fools. We make mistakes. We come up short. It is normal on this side of eternity. And, we want those in our lives to quickly forgive us for being…normal. We should do the same.

Forgive. Forget.

Move on – and find a reason to laugh together. It is good medicine!

  1. We are More Future Oriented

It was always Jerusalem.

I have been reading through the Gospel of Luke this year – a chapter each week. I really like that it is the Gospel written by a historian. I find it interesting that Luke goes to such lengths to illustrate that Jesus’s attention was always pointed towards Jerusalem – the final destination for his earthly journey.

Consider this from Luke 9:51-53, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.”

His ministry was never about today – it was always future oriented. Jesus knew that the current circumstances would not be the determining factor for his future reality.

This is an important lesson for those of us who often find ourselves in difficult conversations and moments with our friendships. Instead of fleeing, Jesus would have us turn our attention towards the aim of these relationships. I think the more my conversations are real, personal, in-person, and Jesus-centric, the better and deeper our friendships will become. In true friendship the Gospel plays out as we forgive, forget, move on, laugh, do life together, and understand that through our affection for each other the world sees some of God’s end game – experiencing an illustration of God’s affection for the world.’

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[1] Susan Scutti, https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/18/health/loneliness-peaks-study/index.html, Accessed March 11, 2019.

Chris Lawson

Author Chris Lawson

Founder of MyBigJesus.com, husband to Merri, father to Adam, Ellie, and Zachary, and executive pastor @reynoldachurch. Lives to make Jesus famous. He enjoys watching the Atlanta Braves and UNC basketball, as well as demeaning and insulting whatever sports teams you root for. He knows a disturbing amount about television and movies.

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