Americans increasingly feel more isolated.
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Clare Ansberry wrote about the friendship of two men who had been friends for 60 years. She states: “Good friends are good for us. They help us get through bad times, listen when we need them, and offer advice. A lack of someone you can confide in can lead to loneliness and isolation, which have been labeled a public health threat, on par with smoking and obesity.” She then shares the findings of an American Perspectives Survey, which reports that 4 in 10 Americans say they don’t have a close friend.
That same week, Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times: “Loneliness crushes the soul, but researchers are finding it does far more damage than that. It is linked to strokes, heart disease, dementia, inflammation, and suicide; it breaks the heart literally as well as figuratively.” He goes on to cite the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who claims that loneliness is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more lethal than consuming six drinks of alcohol a day.
Just this month, the Wall Street Journal featured an article entitled, “Loneliness Isn’t Just Bad for Your Health – It’s Deadly” (November 9, 2023). The columnist argues that Americans are spending more time alone and less time socializing compared with two decades ago.
Chances are, this describes how many of you feel. If not, it most definitely describes your neighbor, co-worker, or friend. It's an unspoken ache too many feel, especially in the wake of Covid. “Even in laughter, the heart may ache …” (Proverbs 14:13).
Sociologists, counselors, and columnists all speculate about the reasons why people feel lonely. Busyness certainly contributes to our loneliness. Meaningful friendships take time. You simply can’t make friends while multitasking. Pace creates another barrier. Have you ever wanted to share what is weighing most heavily on your heart with someone who is rushing to his next appointment? In addition to busyness and pace, we are far too distracted. We carry our phones with us everywhere we go, and with every awkward pause in conversation or ping from our phone, we turn our attention away from the person sitting right in front of us. A busy, hurried, and distracted lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to close, meaningful friendships, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.
For many, the holidays create an even greater sense of loneliness. The memory of lost loved ones and shared family traditions exasperate people’s feelings of isolation.
These challenges give birth to great opportunities for the church to fulfill its God-given design. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . . So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God . . .” (Ephesians 2:13, 19). Christians find their sense of belonging in Christ as children adopted into the household of God. In the simplest of terms, there is always a seat at the table for God’s people and, specifically, for you. You belong.
As our world continues to move at such a frenetic and disconnected pace, I pray that Watermark would be marked by a calming presence that embodies the gospel to a world in search of belonging. Together, we could make a world of difference by simply slowing down, taking an interest in those the Lord puts in our path, and aiming to be truly present and available.
My father-in-law recently passed away, and I was reminded once again of the power of a friend’s presence in my family’s time of grief. Some delivered food, sent flowers, wrote a note, called, or simply sat and listened — nothing complicated, yet it made all the difference in the world and reminded me why I’m grateful I belong to God and with God’s people.
If presence is key to a meaningful friendship, who are the people the Lord is asking you to engage with this week? Who might you invite to Thanksgiving? Or who could you bring to one of our upcoming Christmas Eve services? Think about what might happen if everyone who calls Watermark home thoughtfully pursued at least one other person.
I am confident many will enter Watermark this Sunday, begging the Lord to show Himself in some way to prove that He sees and cares. As impactful as the message and time of worship will be, nothing will outweigh the hospitality of God’s people who take the time to offer a genuine welcome to others and make them feel accepted and valued.
Finally, I want to simply say thank you to every member of Watermark who, week after week and day after day, makes our church family feel like a home. Happy Thanksgiving!
See you on Sunday,
Blake serves as Elder and Lead Pastor at Watermark Community Church.