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Crisis of Isolation

Editorial
March/April, 2023
Volume 58, Number 2

We are bombarded seemingly on a daily basis by crises after crises that come across our computer screens, phone screens, TV screens, radios, newspapers and any other outlet where we get news. As we read the headlines, we come to the conclusion that the world is dominated by a never-ending series of desperate situations that clamor for our attention and to which we must focus our energies. At the time of this writing, there is a war in the Ukraine, spy balloons floating in our atmosphere, devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, acute food shortages across the globe, and the U.S. is pushing up against its debt ceiling of $31.4 trillion.

These certainly are dire situations that need immediate attention, but many of us are powerless to help in any meaningful way. But there is another crisis that has been brewing for quite some time, that hits close to home, and that likely has directly affected you, or someone you know. It is the crisis of isolation. There are a growing number of people in our society who find themselves isolated from others, alone, without companionship, without relationship, without regular interaction with another person. There are a number of factors that have contributed to this phenomenon, but it has been exacerbated by the recent pandemic. There is a growing vacuum of social interaction, and the results are devastating.    

The church is not insulated from this crisis. Many churchgoers also find themselves lacking meaningful social interaction and find the Sunday morning service a positive outlet. This was confirmed in the pandemic. And although the church in America continues to be on the decline, it has an opportunity to fill this void and to bring the message of the gospel and the strength of community to lonely people. I invite you to read the following article which further describes the severity of the crisis and consider how you or your church could intentionally address this need.                                                                               

        — Eric Brubaker  

 

 

CRISIS OF ISOLATION

By Eric Brubaker

 

When God created man, He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It is the first occurrence in the Bible where God said something was not good. In doing so, God declared that we are social beings and we find fulfillment in relationship.

However, there has been a phenomenon unfolding in our society where people are becoming increasingly isolated, separated from one another, alone, without social interaction, without conversation and relationship. This has contributed to increased feelings among many people of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, despair, sometimes leading to addiction, self-harm and suicide. This phenomenon was happening years before the pandemic, but the pandemic certainly magnified it.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been tracking a group of (724) original participants and more than (1,300) of their descendants for over three generations (85-years) to find out if there is a crucial factor that contributes to physical health, mental health and longevity. Contrary to what we might expect, career achievement, exercise and healthy diet are not the key factors. Their research has concluded that good relationships are the key to the above. Even the simple measure of time spent with others can prove beneficial. On the other hand, loneliness can have detrimental physical consequences, and according to their research, chronic loneliness can increase a person’s odds of death by 26% in any given year. Social interaction and relationships are necessary for our well-being. However, we are increasingly becoming isolated   (Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz. “The Real Secret of Lifelong Fulfillment.” WSJ, January14-15, 2023, C1.).      

Several years ago National Review featured an article entitled, “Lonely America.” It noted, “Prosperity has afforded our independence from neighbors and networks…but the relational and emotional collateral damage has fallen hardest on those least able to afford it…an isolation of affluence is indelibly marking modern society.” Since the 1960’s, faith, family and community have suffered tremendous losses. “We have set loose a scourge of loneliness and isolation that we are still afraid to acknowledge as the distinct social dysfunction of our age of individualism” (Yuval Levin. The Fractured Republic, as quoted by Michael Hendrix, Lonely America, National Review, March 29, 2018).

Alex Katz is a 95 year-old American artist who has been sketching commuters on the New York City early morning trains for 7-decades. What he has chronicled is that the chattering riders and shuffle of newspapers (on those early morning subway commutes) of years ago has all but vanished. Today, people ride alone, together! The light in their eyes reflects the glow of their phones! There has been a profound change in America.

There is a crisis of isolation, and our explosion of technology and social media platforms isn’t necessarily helping us. Several years Facebook (now Meta) quietly posted independent research, that said that using their platform can sometimes lead to “lower measures of physical and mental well-being,” and that, “people who spend a lot of time passively consuming social feeds do tend to feel worse” (New York Times, How Does Facebook Feel About Making You Feel Bad?” Saturday, December 16, 2017. B1).

Is it unfair or inaccurate to say that the new technology and social media platforms have directly led to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness and even despair? Perhaps, but many are drawing that conclusion. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, has research that would suggest that “all of a sudden” around 2013, depression rates began to rise, only among those of Gen-Z (those born between 1997 and 2012), and especially among teen girls. His conclusion is that in 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram and young people flocked to it. Also, the first front-facing camera on the iPhone 4 (released in 2010), was greatly enhanced on the iPhone 5 (released in 2012), thus leading to the “selfie era.” According to Haidt, these visual platforms are where people post their “perfect life,” and it leads to a “compare and despair” syndrome. “It seems social because you are communicating with people. But it’s performative. You don’t actually get social relationships. You get weak, fake social links” (Jonathan Haidt as interviewed by Tunku Varadarajan. “The ‘National Crisis’ of Gen Z.” WSJ, December 31, 2022 – January 1, 2023, p.A11).      

Also during that time there has been an increase in addiction. Several years ago TIME magazine came out with a special report, an issue devoted solely to the opioid crisis in America. It was called, “The Opioid Diaries.” The issue started with these words, “The opioid crisis is the worst addiction epidemic in U.S. history.” According to TIME magazine, the opiod crisis is so dire, that in the 95-year history of TIME magazine, this was the first time that an entire issue was devoted entirely to the work of one photographer. The special report concluded with these words, “This is a visual record of a national emergency – and it demands our urgent attention” (TIME Magazine, March 5, 2018).

In addition to this crisis of addiction, there has also been a rise in suicide. The New York Times reported several years ago that because so many suicide attempts were made from the George Washington Bridge, an 11’ high fence (connected to safety netting) was installed on top of the bridge. As a result, (68) people were saved in 2017, and foiled in their attempts (that’s roughly (1) every 5 days.)

Things had become so severe that prior to the pandemic, the life expectancy in the US was declining. From 2014-2016, the mortality rate from drug overdose, (age 25-34) shot up by 50%. The opioid epidemic is hitting our young people the most, although it is not limited to the young.

All of this was happening prior to the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic the isolation was voluntary. During the pandemic, the isolation was mandated, and forced even more use of the new technology and social media platforms which in some cases, perpetuated the dilemma. Much has been (and is being) written about this, but many believe that the devastating effects of the pandemic on people’s mental health and social well-being has had a generational impact that will not be overcome. How should we think about this? What does scripture have to say, and what can the church be doing?   

HELP FROM ABOVE: (Psalm 139)

When we look to scripture, we see that God has an intimate knowledge of all the details of our lives. He knows everything about us and is with us. We are not alone, and therefore, we should not despair.

In Deuteronomy, God assured His people that He would “not abandon or destroy” them, “or forget the covenant” He made with their forefathers (Deuteronomy 4:31). Twice in Deuteronomy 31, God promised that He would “never leave you nor forsake you” (verses 6 and 8). That promise is repeated in the New Testament (Hebrews 13:5). Although these promises are firm, many godly people down through the years have struggled personally with feelings of loneliness, sadness and even depression. The Psalms contain a record of some of their deepest longings and laments.

In Psalm 6 the Psalmist admits that he is “worn out from groaning; all night long I drench my bed with tears” (v.6). In Psalm 42 the Psalmist pours out his heart to God and states, “My tears have been my food day and night” (v.3). In Psalm 56, David says to God, “Record my lament; Put my tears in Your bottle; Are they not in Your book” (v.8)? Down through the years, the people of God have not been immune to feelings of deep sorrow.   

Psalm 139 is one of many scripture passages that give us comfort of the knowledge and presence of God. It is a Psalm of David. We often think about this Psalm when we think about the unborn and how God, “knit me together in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (vv.13-14). But there are other instructive aspects to this Psalm that help us as we think about the subject at hand.  

The Knowledge of God:

When we are tempted with feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and even despair, we should attempt to call to mind the knowledge of God. This is Him knowing us, not us knowing Him. This Psalm reminds us that God knows us. He knows what we are doing and how we are feeling and what we are thinking. He knows where we are. Verses (1-3) say, “O Lord, you have searched me and know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. Thou dost winnow my journeying and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3).   

This Psalm reminds us that God knows our habits. He knows our routines. He knows our path. He knows our journeyings. He intimately knows all of our ways. If we are tempted to think that God doesn’t know or doesn’t care what is happening in our lives, then we must change our thinking. God doesn’t forget about us. He doesn’t abandon us. He doesn’t forsake us. He knows everything about us.

There is an app that we can get for our phones that allows us to track the location of other family members. This can be a handy tool if you want to know where your children are. God not only knows where His children are, He also knows what they are doing! He knows everything about us.

The Presence of God:

Not only does God know where we are and what we are doing, but He is also there with us. Verse (7) says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there…If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You” (Psalm 139:7-8, 11-12).

There is no place too high or too low or too dark for God. Everywhere we go, He is there. It is impossible to flee from the presence of God!

If we are tempted with feelings of loneliness because of social isolation, we must remember that God is with us. The New Testament book of Romans puts it like this: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the deep? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” (Romans 10:6-8). We must remember that God is near. He is with us when we feel alone. He is there to meet us.

The Plan of God:

God doesn’t just know about us, and decide to be with us, He has a plan for us. Even when things seem bleak and hopeless. You might say, “But I don’t see it. I don’t see how He is working things out. I can’t possibly see how He can make anything good come out of what seems to be so bad.” Verses 9-10 say: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:9-10).

God has a plan. He has a plan for you, and He is guiding you, although the path may seem desolate and difficult. His right hand will hold you fast. Verse (5) says, “You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5). The idea here is that He surrounds us – He is behind us, in front of us and beside us. The New Testament tells us that for the Christian, He is also within us. Colossians 1:27 says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Jesus promised that for the Christian, the Holy Spirit will be “with you forever,” and will be “with you and in you” (John 14:16-17).

Here in Psalm 139 it says that God lays His hand upon us to reassure and comfort us. God has a plan, though it may look much different than what we may expect. Verse (16) says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).      

God doesn’t just count our lives in years, He counts our lives in days, and each day of our lives was ordained by God before we were even born. God has a plan for your life. He has ordained our days, and we must trust Him, that He is leading and guiding as He wants.

HELP FROM BESIDE:

It is comforting to know that God is with us in times of isolation. But sometimes it is difficult for us to realize that and apply it in practical ways. We must remember that in the beginning, at creation, God made Adam. At that time, it was simply Adam and God. There was likely some level of fellowship there (between God and Adam). Perhaps they walked together in the Garden in the cool of the day, just as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3:18. But for Adam, this was not enough. God declared that it was not good for the man to be alone. In other words, God confirmed that we find fulfillment in physical relationship.

We are relational beings. This was resoundingly confirmed during the pandemic. The relational benefit of being part of a church family and gathering for Sunday services was clearly recognized in the pandemic. People found great benefit in the social aspect of the church.

1.  Reclaim Community: Therefore, the church should take this opportunity to reclaim and re-emphasize the communal aspect and social benefits of being part of a local church body of believers and find practical ways to express that.

The early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and prayer, but also to the fellowship and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). Now, this could mean that they were devoted to the fellowship (meaning the church body). But it would also indicate that they were devoted to fellowship, defined as a friendly association and close relationship among those who share common interests. Acts 2:46 says that they broke bread, “from house to house, and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” There was definitely a communal, social, relational aspect to the early church, as it should be today. The church should take this opportunity to reclaim and re-emphasize this important aspect.

2.  Recognize the Trend: The church should also be aware of this trend toward isolation and social disconnectedness. The pervasive use of technology is impacting us. Researchers tell us that in 2018, the average American spent 11-hours every day interacting with media from television to radio to smartphones. All of this interaction is typically done alone. Although there may be someone else in the room, you are not likely interacting with them.

It would be a mistake to think that this social phenomenon is out there, and not in here, and that somehow the church is insulated and unscathed. There are many among us who are dealing with the effects of isolation and who face issues of anxiety, loneliness, depression and even despair. But it is also interesting to note that there have been quite a few people (in church settings) who have voluntarily acknowledged that they lack meaningful relationships, even in the church. They feel lonely. Perhaps this is a symptom of our social crisis, or simply part of life. But it is real.

There have been a number of studies that show that after the age of (25) people tend to stop making new friends, and their social circles shrink significantly. It has been reported that a person’s peak mobile phone usage happens at age (25) and then goes downhill from there. This is likely part of the aging process but is nonetheless a factor of increased feelings of loneliness among many.

It has also been reported that at least 25% of households in America are made up of people living alone. This is partly because the number of senior citizens is increasing, and younger people are delaying getting married. Putting all of this together, it becomes evident why young and old alike (and those in between) are increasingly feeling isolated and alone.    

3.  Seek Solutions: What can we do? What should the church be doing? It is interesting to note that in the early church there was a social program to meet an immediate physical need. The church was involved in “the daily distribution of food” to care for widows who had no family to care for them (Acts 6:1). In other words, the church took care of its own and did not let these physical needs unmet.

Later in the New Testament we are commanded to, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14/ESV). Therefore, as we become aware of situations of isolation and loneliness, we should reach out, befriend, express concern and try to fill the void and offer help as best we can.

It is interesting to note that in 2018, Great Britain appointed its first “minister of loneliness” to address the growing concern among the public. Their job is to seek practical ways to alleviate the problem.

But it is also well documented that one of the ways to lessen feelings isolation and loneliness is not only to offer help, but also to ask for help. In other words, if we are aware that someone is feeling isolated and alone, we should ask them for their help! Or, ask them if together, we could meet the needs of another. This strikes at the fact that we tend to feel more useful, productive and fruitful if we are seeking to help someone else rather than dwelling on our own needs.

A strange twist to this topic is that although the glut of technology and social media is part of the problem, especially for the young, it is also part of the solution for those who are older, because the new technology allows older persons to better stay connected with their family and loved ones. However, the challenge is to teach them how to use it. But this is where the younger can help the older.

Conclusion: There is growing awareness that many people are feeling more isolated and lonely. This was evident before the pandemic, but compounded in the pandemic. Isolation is defined as limited contact with other people. Similar words would be seclusion or solitude. Extended isolation is not good for our well-being.

On the other hand, loneliness is defined as the disconnect between the relationships we have and those we want. There is also growing awareness of anxiety and depression among many.

 Loneliness is not a new thing. The Apostle Paul, writing from a dungeon in Rome, in his last New Testament letter, bemoaned the fact that everyone in the province of Asia had deserted him (2 Timothy 1:15), but the Lord stood by his side (2 Timothy 4:17). David, the Psalmist, cried out to God in his own loneliness and said, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). And later he declared that God is “a Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows…[He] sets the lonely in families, He leads forth the prisoners with singing” (Psalm 68:5-6).   

God definitely has great concern for the isolated and lonely and wants to meet them where they are. But He also calls the church to be His hands and feet and to meet need where we can. May the Lord help us personally to walk in healthy ways and to open our eyes to the need around us and give us the wisdom and strength to act.

In 2023, Brethren Maine Missions (BMM) purchased the Building Materials Exchange.  The Last Sheaf Building Materials Exchange provides exposure and connection with the community of Lisbon while offering a variety of new, used, and salvaged building materials, tools, and supplies at greatly reduced prices.

Why “The Last Sheaf?”

The Last Sheaf is a reference from the Bible where God says:

When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Deuteronomy 24:19 (NKJV)

Links:

  • https://lastsheafbme.org/

Highlights:

   GOD is faithful! The sun shines and GOD is with us, the rain comes down and GOD is with us.

 

   Since we’ve taken ownership of the Last Sheaf BME, we’ve made roof repairs, insulated the ceiling, repaired walls, etc. There were times it felt like every step we took there was another thing to fix. 

 

   We have two people on staff (Craig Keeney and Peter Bucher) assisted by a tremendous team of volunteers. We work together to make repairs, do pricing and inventory work, assist customers and more.  Interacting with and helping customers is the highlight of our day. People come with material needs; they need product to build or repair their home. People come with spiritual and emotional needs, as well. We purpose to get to know the individuals who come through our doors in order to share hope, truth, and love.

 

   One individual who had visited the Last Sheaf a couple of times was loud, large, and in charge. He had a “Goliath” personality. He made me quake in my boots a little (maybe a lot). His language was at times not appropriate anywhere, but especially not in a public place. One day he was standing right beside me and was about to speak that which I did not want to hear.  In a very quiet voice, I called him by name and before I could say any more, he apologized and said, “You are right. I shouldn’t be talking like that.”  Then he launched into a spiritual conversation with me. I was totally taken off guard by the change. He has been a different person ever since. Now he is more like a “David” personality. I now look forward to opportunities to speak with him.

 

   Donations of products/materials as well as finances are always appreciated, but the prayers of the saints are as vital a need to the work at the Last Sheaf, as anything.

Just as in biblical times the last sheaves of grain from a harvest were to be left behind to benefit the needy, we are taking leftover building materials, tools, and supplies and making them available at greatly reduced prices to those in need.

Our Mission:

Our mission is to benefit low-income homeowners, and to reduce waste in the environment by repurposing surplus building materials, enabling low income homeowners to better maintain their homes.

Register Now

BBI Registration Now Open!

Come explore God’s Word with us!. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. – Romans 10:17”

THE BOOK OF DANIEL

Captivity… Dreams… Rulers… Fire… Lions… Prayers… Kingdoms. From a dedicated youth to a faithful sage, Daniel’s life stands as an example to follow.  Yet beyond his personal life, God gifted Daniel with a message of future events.  Though difficult to grasp, these events would shape the world for the coming Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ as King.

STUDIES IN LUKE

Luke presents a warmly personal and historically accurate account of Jesus as “the Son of Man.” This course will survey the Third Gospel, with emphasis on the unique events, miracles, and parables of Jesus found in it.

HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

This class will provide a broad overview of general church history. We will then focus on the Anabaptist and Pietist movements, especially as they relate to the formation and development of the Brethren groups. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.

ONE FOUNDATION

This course is intended to lay down a measure in a world where truth is slippery and often subject to interpretation. Where “Christian Values” become a political slogan, and “good people” are our allies despite their faulty core beliefs. Where Facebook “friends” post memes about the power of God, despite a lifestyle that is anything but Godly. In the process we often fight among ourselves, doing Satan’s work for him. The purpose of this course is to lay the measure of Jesus Christ against the cults, religions, and worship in our contemporary world.

THE APOCRYPHA

While Protestant translations of the Bible contain 66 books, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize additional canonical books as well.  Where did these books, collectively known as the Apocrypha, come from and why aren’t they part of our Bible?  How reliable are they, and what value is there in studying them?

STUDIES IN 1 AND 2 PETER

The goal of this class is to acquire a firm grasp of the teachings and themes of these two general epistles. Peter covers topics from salvation and suffering to spiritual deception and the return of Christ. These letters are packed with warnings and encouragements for Christian living.

THE GREAT I AM’S OF CHRIST

A detailed study of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the “I Am” metaphors in John’s gospel. Why did Jesus describe himself in these terms? How do they relate to each other? We will look at spiritual and practical applications to further our Christian growth.

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES: AN AMERICAN CULT

Have you ever been visited by someone who said they wanted to study the Bible with you so that you might discover the truth together?  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to have much in common with evangelical Christians, and they seem to be well versed in the scriptures.  But what do they really believe and how can we effectively witness to those who have been ensnared by this false religion?

THE BOOK OF HOSEA

While we may consider Hosea as one of the minor prophets, his message vividly illustrates the major doctrine in all Scriptures.  The theme of God’s unconditional love is magnified and extended beyond those deserving it.  God expresses tender words towards His erring people inviting them to turn from sin to reconciliation with Him.

CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND ADMINISTRATION

This course will look at basic principles and polity of leading the local church. We will examine the balance between upholding a spiritually focused organism of ministry and cultivating proper order for effective organization. Practical applications will be emphasized. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.

STATEMENT OF CONDUCT

The Brethren Bible Institute believes in the discipline of the whole person (spirit, soul, and body). We will aim to train students not only about how to study the Bible in a systematic way (2 Timothy 2:15), but also how to live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). God calls Christians to the highest of character when He commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15), and holiness requires discipline.

Indulgence in the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, drugs, profanity, and gambling are forbidden at BBI. Objectionable literature will be prohibited. Students are asked not to use the college pool during the Institute. Each student must be thoughtful, and respect the rights of others at all times, especially during study and rest periods.

A friendly social group intermingling of students between class periods, and at general school activities is encouraged. Each student should enjoy the friendship of the entire group. At all times, highest standards of social conduct between men and women must be maintained. This means that all forms of unbecoming behavior and unseemly familiarities will be forbidden.

Personal appearance and grooming tell much about one's character. Students are expected to be dressed in good taste. In an attempt to maintain Scriptural expressions of simplicity, modesty, and nonconformity, the following regulations shall be observed while attending BBI.

MEN should be neatly attired and groomed at all times. Fashion extremes and the wearing of jewelry should be avoided on campus. The hair should not fall over the shirt-collar when standing, nor should it cover the ears.

WOMEN should wear skirts cut full enough and of sufficient length to at least come to the knees when standing and sitting. Form-fitting, transparent, low-neckline, or sleeveless clothing will not be acceptable. Slacks and culottes are permitted only for recreation and then only when worn under a skirt of sufficient length. Wearing jewelry should be avoided on campus. Long hair for women is encouraged and all Church of the Brethren girls (and others with like convictions) shall be veiled on campus.

The Institute reserves the right to dismiss any student whose attitude and behavior is not in harmony with the ideals of the School, or whose presence undermines the general welfare of the School, even if there is no specific breach of conduct.

The Brethren Bible Institute is intended to provide sound Bible teaching and wholesome Christian fellowship for all who desire it. The Bible School Committee worked hard and long at the task of arriving at standards, which will be pleasing to the Lord. It is not always easy to know just where the line should be drawn and we do not claim perfection. No doubt certain standards seem too strict for some and too loose for others. If you are one who does not share all these convictions, we hope you will agree to adjust to them for the School period, for the sake of those who do. We are confident that the blessings received will far outweigh any sacrifice you may have to make. If you have a special problem or question, please write to us about it. To be accepted as a student at BBI, you will need to sign a statement indicating that you will cooperate with the standards of the School.