You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Concern about loneliness has come up quite a bit of late. It has to do with the pandemic of course. We are encouraged to stay home, not to attend gatherings of more than ten people, and even then with masks and staying at least six feet apart. When these rules are broken, and there are large gatherings, especially with non-mask wearers present, we often see an upsurge in COVID-19 cases. I will admit to feeling more than a little irritable at being confined like this, but being an “elderly” person (I really do not like to be called elderly even though it is true) and having a couple of what are politely called “co-morbidities,” I understand that such distancing is necessary. And daily I give thanks for Zoom, email, text messages, and Facebook, since those are ways I can keep up with my family and friends at least somewhat. But some days I just long to go out to eat with friends. I miss going to the Oaks Road cafeteria on Tuesdays. I miss gathering on Sunday mornings and belting out the great hymns of the church.
So, being a news junkie who listens to NPR, watches channel 12, and reads three newspapers nearly daily (one in print and two online), I have heard a lot about concern over the effects of loneliness, or as some would call it, “social isolation”, among people of all ages from children who are doing online school, to young adults who are now working from home, to “the elderly” (there’s that word again) who live alone and/or are fearful of going out among people. It can affect both our mental and spiritual health. One article I read stated that being chronically lonely can have as much influence on our physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes every day. Our spiritual lives can suffer too, when there is no one to hold us accountable for daily prayers and study.
Christianity is, by definition, is a communal religion. Paul Tillich, a twentieth century German theologian, said that there really is no faith apart from the community of faith.
Our Methodist founder, John Wesley, wrote, “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness by social holiness.”
So what then are we to do when we are feeling isolated and apart from our church community? Well, there are the aforementioned means of staying in touch, like the phone, email, and Facebook. And on days when we are particularly lonely, we read the words of Scripture above. We are never alone. I remember a church member from long ago who lived alone in an old farm house in the middle of a big field. She was a distance from the road, and not within “hollerin’” distance of her nearest neighbor. I asked her if she was ever lonesome or afraid being out there by herself. “No,” she said. “Because I am never alone. My Lord keeps me company.”
“How Firm a Foundation”
“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed’
for I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee,
and cause thee to stand
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
Pastor Rachel Moser