Our pastor and his wife called in the afternoon and wanted to know what we were doing tonight. The elders meeting was canceled (soybean harvest is running late), so they had a free night. They brought a couple pizzas, and we hung out and laughed.
Earlier in the day, I read this sobering report posted at Christianity Today Online:
As of 2004, the average American had just two close friends, compared with three in 1985. Those reporting no confidants at all jumped from 10 percent to 25 percent. Even the share of Americans reporting a healthy circle of four or five friends had plunged from 33 percent to just over 15 percent.
Increasingly, those whom we consider close friends—if we have any—are household members, not people who "bind us to community and neighborhood." Our wider social connections seem to be shriveling like a turkey left too long in the oven.
"You usually don't expect major features of social life to change very much from year to year or even decade to decade," Smith-Lovin, a sociologist at Duke University, told the news media.
Some may contend that the trend is no big deal, because the population is growing older and more racially diverse, and these demographic groups usually have smaller networks where friendships form. However, the nation's increasing level of education, the study says, should more than offset those factors (because, it argues, education often brings more social contacts). Yet our isolation has increased, leaving us at higher risk for a host of physical, social, and psychological ailments.
The article concludes by asking us Christians to make an effort to befriend the unchurched.
But just as friendless people exist among the unchurched, the pews of our churches fill up on Sunday with the lonely. Some duck in and slink out without talking with anyone. Perhaps they don't want to talk, or perhaps they do and we just don't notice them. Either way, it's a tragedy.
We've been talking about community in the last couple weeks, and the topic won't let go of my heart. How sad that so many people don't feel a part of a healthy community. Like the CT article pointed out, our social networks have unraveled. And as I've said in recent posts, that only furthers an island mentality in people that eventually shuts everyone out and thinks the better for it.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries. *
In your church and mine, sheep have wandered away from the fold. Jesus beseeched us to go get them. I used to think that had something to do with blatant sin in the missing sheep's life, but now I understand how easy it is to drift away for no other reason than people simply forget that sheep was ever there.
It's going to cost us something if we reach out the lonely and isolated. We may not get to do what we want each night of the week. We may have a little less private time. We might have to pick up the restaurant check. But the Kingdom of God pays dividends, so that whatever's spent returns ten, fifty, and hundredfold. We get back more than what we give, especially when we pour grace into the lives of lonely people. What a powerful revelation to hear someone say, "In the midst of my loneliness, when I thought no one cared, you were there for me." Do you think a person like that would be more open to hearing the truth of Jesus' Gospel? Or to desire to grow in true discipleship?
If in a given year, each Christian in this country befriended one overlooked person in his/her church and one person outside the church, how incredible would the return be? Not only for us, but for those lonely people?
Our isolation dampens what Christ can do through us. He came to serve others. His example of reaching out to the prostitute, the tax collector, and the other lonely people should stir us. The party is bigger than we are.
Can't we do this? Just two people a year?
I'm more than ready to.