It is ironic that, in this age of 24/7 connectedness through social media, loneliness and isolation are epidemic. All of us wonder if the images we encounter on Facebook are real or merely a projection of a person’s wishes. It is daunting to engage with folks who seem to have life so completely together. Dr. Francie Broghammer, chief psychiatry resident at UC Irvine Medical Center, reports that absence of meaningful relationships afflicts almost 50 percent of our population. One in five Americans report that they have no one to talk to when going through difficult times. A former U.S. Surgeon General calls loneliness a public health crisis. Suicide, depression, drug and alcohol abuse all correlate with loneliness.
Life’s struggles tend to increase isolation. Most people are reluctant to share their problems broadly. It makes them feel abnormal, inept failures. Better to keep on a mask of success and self-sufficiency. “All my Facebook friends post happy faces doing fun and exciting things. How can I tell them how much I am hurting?” There is a fear that people would reject me if they knew how troubled my life is. I reason with myself that I do not want to be labeled as a whiner. I do not want people to run the other way when they see me coming because I come with a dark cloud over my head. In the old comic strip Li’l Abner, there was a character, Joe Btfsplk, who had a rain cloud over his head wherever he went. He was the world’s worst jinx, bringing calamity to anyone who came close to him. No one wants to be Joe Btfsplk.
One of the most comforting promises in Scripture is Hebrews 13:5 where God declares that He will never leave us nor forsake us, allowing us to confidently declare that God is our Helper and we have no reason to fear anything life throws at us. In a similar vein, Romans 8:38-39 declares “neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Dr. Broghammer in a recent article, entitled “Death by Loneliness,” states that “faith can instill a sense of meaning and purpose that transcends the present struggle; it allows people to survive anguish and find meaning in suffering. I have seen this first-hand, time and time again, with many of my patients reporting they would have attempted suicide long ago if they did not have faith, which provided them with hope in otherwise hopeless circumstances.” The Apostle Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Christianity also offers a horizontal antidote to loneliness. We don’t have to face our struggles alone. Paul instructs us to “share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Christians are called to come alongside those who are hurting and offer to carry part of their load in life. It goes to the core of our faith to care about those who struggle and to seek to alleviate their burdens. Dr. Broghammer asserts faith can only help combat loneliness if Americans actually practise their faith. She cites a long-term study of 88,000 women. Weekly church attendance reduced suicide rates by 50 percent. Of the 7,000 women who were involved at church more than once weekly, none committed suicide in the entire fifteen year tenure of the study.
Through Prayerfest, Christians from over 20 churches offer themselves in relationship to people who are weathering life’s storms. We want to walk with our neighbors, churched and unchurched, believing and skeptical, into the presence of the God who never leaves us or forsakes us. We want to be His skin to our neighbors, offering comfort, support, life experience and practical help so they can successfully navigate the foul weather which afflicts all of us at times.
It is possible to share the weights we all carry without becoming Joe Btfsplk. God created an institution for that very purpose. Will you give us the privilege of living out our faith in company with you as you encounter life challenges? One of the best parts of being a follower of Jesus is that you know that in your own hour of need someone else will rise to your aid and comfort. Thus, in accepting the Prayerfest invitation, you not only gain the support you need now but also gain the future opportunity to help someone else later. Please join us today any time between 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. at the corner of Woodgate and Townsend. May we pray with you?
Doug Kiesewetter is a serial start-up business and social entrepreneur, having launched 13 for-profit ventures and many non-profits over the past four decades. He is currently CEO of a Montrose-based solar manufacturer and chairman of Waterstone, a public Christian foundation in Colorado Springs. Doug is a member of Cedar Creek Church. He and his wife Deborah have two adult children and four grandchildren.