Ending Loneliness: The Power of Relational Connection

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There’s an academic peer review journal called, The Journal of Happiness Studies. Researchers for the journal are trying to figure what is it that makes a human life flourish. What produces joy? What makes a life content? 

When looking at what distinguishes very happy people from less happy people, they find that there is the one factor, one difference, that consistently separates those two groups.

What’s the one difference that distinguishes more happy from less happy people?

It’s not income.
It’s not the size of the home one lives in.
It is not health.
It’s not what kind of shape one’s body is in. 
It’s not attractiveness.
It is not IQ.
It is not career success.

What distinguishes consistently happier people from less happy people is the ongoing presence of rich, deep, meaningful relationships with other human beings.

If you look at the mission of the church, we want to connect people to Jesus, and we want to connect them to other Christians and we want to connect them to the community. At her basic core, the church’s mission is to make sure no one around us is lonely. 

The neighborhoods we live in should be a places where the word lonely doesn’t exist. Yet, loneliness is an epidemic. It’s a growing concern. 

There’s a book entitled, “Bowling Alone”. It’s written by Robert Putnam, a professor at the Harvard Business School, so we assume he knows what he’s talking about. The book is about the decline of relationships and close friendships, and the increasing rate of loneliness in the United States, over the past 25 years.

Where we all were 25 years ago is a different world today.
Some stats in this book are this:  

Family dinners are down 33%. 

Active families tend to eat without dad because he’s working a lot, or they eat food cooked by a 16 year old after ordering it through a drive-thru window and then it’s off to practice for the kids. Instead of being intentional with our evenings, we watch television while eating. We could be catching up on how our loved one’s day went. 

Having the neighbors over for dinner or dessert or coffee or for a game or for a walk, it’s down 33% than what it was 25 years ago. 

How many of us know our neighbors? Not just their name or what kind of dog they have. Not just a friendly wave. Do you know them closely? Or are they lonely because you haven’t invited them over yet? 

I was convicted a few years ago and my wife and I put our home up for sale. We had an open house that we weren’t present for but our realtor told us that the neighbors on our street came to the open house. They weren’t interested in buying our home, they were just curious to see what it looked like on the inside.

Because we had never had them over for dinner. 

Having friends over to the home just to be with one another is down 45%. 

I hope we as Christians are people who practice hospitality and enjoy the company of one another to the point that weekly we have people we love and care about over to our home just to hang out. No agenda but to check in.

Playing cards together is down 25%. 

Playing cards is not about winning, it’s about catching up and laughing and catching up with one another.

The readiness to make friends by the average American is down 33%.  

Our children are young in age, but a simple principle I am encouraging to engrave in their thoughts and habits is if they see someone at school alone – at lunch, on the playground, on the bus – that they are the ones who should initiate a conversation and befriend that child who’s alone. I want them to be includers.

People want closeness, they want friends, they want to be social, but because they’re afraid or not as confident, they become isolated and lonely from the world. 

Everyone craves to have a friend but no one wants to take the first step. Everyone deep down wants to be honest and loved for who they really are but no one wants to be vulnerable. 

In 1995 Americans had 3 close friends. Now, today, they have 2. In a matter of time they’ll have one and then it will just be them. Alone. By themselves. 

25% of Americans have no one to confide in. 

When life is hard and the stress is high and the pain is overwhelming, what happens when a person with all of that weight feels unloved and believes they have no one to go to?

If people are lonely and they’re created for relationships and they feel like they have no one to confide in, who are they going to turn to? 

All it takes for a girl to trust a guy is the fact that he listens to her, because she’s got no one to confide in. He’ll listen to her, and then take advantage of her. 

If people have no one to trust, they turn to just anyone around them and that gets them onto a dangerous path. 

Or, the lonely person with no one to share their struggle with will turn to drinking, or pornography, or binge on Netflix or take sleeping pills. 

Go to a coffee house and observe the increase of isolation in our community. Count the amount of people by themselves verses people enjoying one another’s company. More and more, coffee houses are places where you buy mediocre coffee, open up your laptop, listen to some music on your headphones and ignore the people sitting close to you. 

That’s not why coffee houses were started. They were supposed to be a place of community.

It’s also not why the church started. The church is supposed to be a place of community. 

What I’m pointing through statistics is that people are more lonely than ever. 

Some of you are lonely. You’re married, but you feel lonely. You have beautiful kids, but you’re lonely. You have a job that provides, but you’re lonely. You’re retired, and lonely. You’re broken-hearted and lonely.

And if not you, the people around you are lonely. They are close to you in proximity but they are far away from others relationally.

What is the answer to our loneliness and the loneliness of the people around us? 

It’s the power of connection.

A friend of mine was telling me about their dog and cat. The dog and the cat didn’t like each other. They seemed to fight for 10 years. Then, one year, the cat died and afterwards the dog didn’t want to eat. For 6 weeks the dog wouldn’t eat. 6 weeks after the cat died, the dog died. 

That’s the power of relational connection.

Earlier this month a couple in Michigan who were married for 70 years to each other died minutes apart.

That’s the power of relational connection.

People who are socially disconnected are between 2 and 5 times more likely to die earlier than those who have close ties to family and friend relationships. 

That’s the power of relational connection. 

People who have bad health habits like cigarette smoking, overeating, elevated blood pressure, physical inactivity, these people live longer when connected to others.  

People with bad health habits but that are connected, live longer than people who have great health habits but are disconnected and isolated.

The poster boy for this is Winston Churchill. 

Churchill was deeply connected with friends and family. He had a wonderful marriage with his wife, connected to his extended family, connected to his friends and his nation and those at his work. 

His health habits were terrible. 

His diet was awful. He smoked cigars all the time. He drank too much, had erratic sleeping habits and was completely sedentary but he lived to be ninety-one years old. 

Somebody asked him one time, “Winston Churchill, do you ever exercise? 

His response, “The only exercise I get is serving as a pallbearer for my friends who died while they were exercising. 

Now, I’m not advocating that if you have close relationships then you can smoke and eat and drink as much as you want. I am advocating that the best way to take care of yourself above eating right and sleeping right and exercising is to have close relationships.

Community takes a “don’t give up” spirit because it isn’t easy or natural. God will help us but still it is not easy. If you’re not in a little community of one anothers, for whatever reason, there are Christians around you who would love to help you move towards that connectedness. 

Putnam writes further, “As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but you decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”

It’s’ the power of relational connection.

So, for a husband and wife, each side of the marriage needs to be vulnerable. They need to share what is stressing them out. They need to share what’s disappointing them. They need to pray together. 

For a parent-child dynamic, mom and dad need to be daily checking in with their child’s thoughts. What are they afraid of? Did something happen in the day that hurt them? How do their friendships look? Are they deep or shallow? 

For our friendships, it’s so much more than having a girls night out or playing poker with the guys. It’s one-on-one conversations where we visit with a friend and ask them questions like, Is there anything you need prayer for? Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to share? Is there something keeping you up at night? 

For our neighbors, (as Christians, we do not believe in coincidence, we live in the place we live on purpose, meaning, we live by the people we do for a reason) we need to invite these people over. 

Have them over for dinner. Have them over for a game night. Invite them to come with you to a community event. As you grow closer, ask them if you can help take care of their pet if they’ve traveling or babysit their child if they need a night away. See if there’s a talent you have that they don’t that you can help them out with (finances, yard work, cooking). Buy new neighbors a house-warming gift with a card of encouragement. Don’t let anyone in church sit alone. 

Anything little to start a loving relationship so that they don’t feel alone and you don’t either. 

Every life needs to be a part of another life. It starts with you. Overcome the fear of being rejected when you invite someone into your life or when you courageously decide to ask for help. Overcome the busyness of your schedule and the lackadaisical approach you have allowed your evenings and weekends to be, and invite people into your home. 

Your life and their life might depend on an act of kindness just to grow closer. 

Let us not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:25)

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Thoughts on Abortion

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Roe Vs. Wade, the January 22nd, 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion throughout pregnancy, turned 45 years old this week.

Abortion has become a politically-charged subject, with lines drawn in the sand.

One political party says, We are pro-life. Another political party says, We are pro-choice. One party protects and fights for the rights of an unborn baby while the other party protects and fights for the rights of the pregnant woman. It’s become an either-or proposition where people are forced to pick a side. The problem for me as a Christian, when culture forces me to pick a side, is that Jesus is both-and.

Jesus is for babies and for women.

The church is messing up her witness because Christians are loudly arguing what they are against instead of gently stating in love what they are for. Christians would do well to stop yelling at what issue they are against and start sharing in love that they are for Jesus. Jesus is for babies and for women.

Surely at some point in his earthly life, Jesus’ birth-mother sat Him down and walked Him through all the pain, fear and humiliation she went through as an unmarried, teenage, pregnant woman. It seemed to have shaped Jesus’ love for children and women on the outskirts of culture.

Since Jesus is pro-baby and pro-women, so am I. Here are some reasons why:

I am for the Sciences.

What the scientific community has discovered is that life begins at conception.

Let’s say a baby is conceived on January 1st, (which means it must’ve been quite a New Year’s Eve party). Here’s what happens after conception:

JANUARY 1: All 46 chromosomes are present giving the baby a unique genetic make-up that cannot be replaced or reproduced. 

JANUARY 21: The baby’s heart begins to beat. 

FEBRUARY 7: The baby’s eyes, legs, and hands begin to develop.  

FEBRUARY 21: The baby starts kicking and swimming in the womb. 

FEBRUARY 28: Every organ in the baby’s body is in the proper place, bones are taking shape, and fingerprints have begun to form.

Most abortions take place at this stage of development. If that’s not a human being then I am not a human being. This is why ultrasounds are so critical in the process of a woman deciding to abort or give life.

78 percent of all expecting moms wanting an abortion, decide not to have one after seeing the ultrasound of their baby. 

The owner of the largest abortion clinic in the United States testified before Congress and said this:

“Of course human life begins at conception. This isn’t new news; it’s just overlooked information.” – Aileen Klass

50 million babies have been systematically exterminated because of overlooked information?

Even if I didn’t believe a single word in the Bible, I would still be pro-baby and pro-woman because of my intellectual commitment to science.

I am for the Law. 

I am utterly grateful to be living in a country that is legally establishing gender equality. There is a ways to go still, but as a father to two daughters who are growing into women, they will live in a time where women can thrive better than ever before. The law is to thank for that. I pray for our political and judicial leaders. I am for them.

There are some inconsistencies in America’s legal system. If a woman chooses to terminate the development of her baby, it’s considered, by law, a choice. If someone else harms her while she is pregnant, and terminates the baby growing inside of her, it’s a homicide, it’s murder.

In America if you destroy an eagle’s egg you’ll go to jail for two years.

The law says what develops inside of an eagle’s egg is more valuable than who is developing inside of a mother’s stomach. It doesn’t seem to line up with these timeless words written by Thomas Jefferson:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson

Since the inception of these words in the year 1776, America has fought numerous wars in numerous countries. Our country defends everyone’s right, globally, to life. 1.3 million American soldiers have laid their own lives down so that other people in other countries could live.

Why wouldn’t we fail to protect the rights for the unborn to have life?

Maybe you remember a man from history class named Dred Scott. Scott was slave from Missouri. His owner moved him to Illinois where slavery was illegal and Dred Scott took him to court because his owner tried to sell him to a state where it was illegal to have slaves. It was a courageous move.

The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court and the decision sadly ended up being that slaves were property, not people. But the Dred Scott case ignited a nationwide controversy and eventually it led to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, which thankfully led to the 13th Amendment in our constitution stating that all people are people, not property.

And it’s not just race. Husband, remember your wife is not your property. Treat her with kindness. Boyfriend, your girlfriend is not yours. She’s God’s. Parent, your child/children are not your property, they’re God’s children you get to influence for a short time. Employer, treat your employees fair and honor them when they do well. They’re not your property either. Which means an unborn baby is not property

In her book, Who Broke the Baby?, author Jean Garton makes this observation,

“History has proven us wrong about Native Americans. History has proven us wrong about African Americans. We cannot afford to wait for history to prove us wrong about the unborn.” – Jean Staker Garton 

If it’s proven scientifically and medically that unborn babies are people, does it matter if we kill them before they are born or after they are born? Right now the only thing that separates abortion and euthanasia is the law.

There is a greater category than science or law.

I am for the Scriptures. 

The songwriter in Psalm 139 sings this about God,

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! (Psalm 139:13-17)

God has so many great thoughts about life in the womb and not one of them is abortion. Here’s how God begins the book of Jeremiah,

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Before any person is born, God knows them intimately, loves them unconditionally, values them above all creation and has a purposeful, specific plan for their life.

When Mary was pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit, she went to her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant at the same time with John the Baptist. When Elizabeth saw her cousin Mary, she said,

When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. (Luke 1:44)

Not birth matter. Not uterine content. Elizabeth says, the baby jumped for joy. From the very beginning of the Bible and of humanity, God’s message is clear.

God has a heart for the voiceless and the weak. It’s always for the child. The church must echo God’s heart. This is why in the book, Answering the Call, author John Ensor points out a big tragedy in the Christian community. He writes –

“The abortion industry could not survive financially without paying customers drawn from the church.” – John Esnor

No Christian needs to be protesting outside of abortion clinics. They just need to stop going inside them.

Anytime I am listening to someone who has an abortion in their past, whether they chose it, their parents forced it, their boyfriend forced it, or they funded it, I try to communicate this truth:

You are either forgiven or forgivable. 

If you’re a follower of Jesus, and you’ve been shamed over sin in your past, Jesus already has forgiven you of all of that. It’s gone. It’s clean. The evil one will try to remind you of it, but remind him Jesus has forgiven you and that your future is good and his is frightening.

If you’re not a follower of Jesus, and you’ve been shamed by choices you’ve made, you are forgivable. God willingly, overwhelmingly will forgive all of your past. If you’ve had an abortion, Jesus died to forgive that act and He rose from death to free you from being chained by that memory. If you haven’t admitted your past to a friend, reach out and share it bravely to experience liberation and healing.

If you know a woman who is pregnant and scared, the guy isn’t involved, the finances aren’t there, her parents are angry, her future looks bleak, say this to her:

You may have an unwanted pregnancy, but you do not have an unwanted baby. 

Adoption is a great option. Life is always the right option. I’m convinced that each Christian should let Proverbs chapter 31:8 marinate in their membrane over and over:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; (Proverbs 31:8)

I’m pro-baby and I’m pro-woman because of my intellectual commitment to science, because of my moral commitment to the legal system, and also, more importantly, because of my spiritual dedication to Scripture’s truth and wisdom.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z