Early this year, the United Kingdom appointed a Minister for Loneliness in response to the massive numbers of citizens who feel lonely most or all of the time. Chronic loneliness may be as hazardous to health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, leading some researchers to describe the problem as an epidemic.
Those of us who have been lonely probably aren’t too surprised by this information. We experience loneliness as something deeply wrong; we know this is not the way things are supposed to be. Yet it’s not as easy to “fix” as we might expect. Meeting people is easy enough; but connecting with them is harder.
What’s sometimes even worse is that we take loneliness as a sign that something is wrong with us. While others post photos of girls’ nights out or family camping trips, we feel we should be embarrassed to admit that we long for better relationships. Or we may actually seem to have plenty of friends and activities in our lives, but they don’t actually provide fulfillment, connection, safety, and care.
Our culture’s our habits of moving frequently, working constantly or cramming schedules with activities, living in physical isolation from others, expecting our friends’ lives not to impinge upon our own, all contribute to the problem of loneliness. At the same time,our default values of high achievement and financial prosperity; nuclear families (but not extended or fictive/community ones); freedom, independence, and self reliance all make it harder to talk about.
The human need for connection is not only named in the Bible; it’s an underlying assumption of everything else in the Bible. The laws, stories, and letters of the Bible are all written to communities of people who depended on each other constantly. Sometimes it seems as though people today are like pinballs, meeting often but bouncing off of each other as we continue on our own busy paths. That aspect of our lives would be unfathomable to the tight-knit groups of Jews and Christians for whom belonging to their religion was not separable from belonging to a community.
As Director of Discipleship, it’s tempting to think that my job primarily consists of finding books or teaching classes about how to be a Christian. But if “discipleship” means following Jesus, it also means journeying with other tagalongs (maybe 12?) on the way. We might learn about ideas from books or sermons, but those ideas really become true for us when we live them out with others. And the most profound lessons in life are not always ideas at all; some of the truths we experience in community will never quite accommodate themselves to expression in words.
Two Rivers is starting up our first season of small groups in a couple of weeks. I can’t promise you that this mini-run of five to six weeks will bring you instant fulfillment, connection, safety, and care. I can only promise you snacks and discussion. What I can tell you is that connecting you with a group is one of the best ways we know to make space for those relationships to grow on their own.
Yes, it can be scary. Or awkward. Or inconvenient. Connection doesn’t always come naturally to us when we’ve spent our lives learning to be independent. And friendship takes time and effort in the day-to-day drudgery of life to blossom into the meaningful relationships we crave. Meeting with a group of people once a week isn’t a magic recipe for lifelong, ride-or-die community.
But it’s a step in that direction. By showing up, we say to each other: I need you in my life. I’m willing to make a space for you to belong. That first day you gather with a group, you never know if a year from now you’ll be lifelong friends or simply familiar connections among the larger community. What you do know is that everyone in the room has made time to be together. And that in itself is a rare find.
In a culture of isolation, joining a small group is a proactive step toward prioritizing connection. Will you be counter-cultural with us?
Two Rivers’ first round of small groups (Sunday night, youth, work + faith, and women’s entrepreneurship) begin the week of April 8th and run through the end of the school year. If you’re interested in joining one, catch up with us at church in the next few weeks or send us an email below.