By Emily Pilkington
In 2017 the U.S. Surgeon General announced a threat to national public health that was more dangerous than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It shortened a lifespan by eight years. And it affected almost half of the adult population. He wasn’t talking about cancer or heart disease.
He was talking about loneliness.
These statistics related to loneliness were at an all time high before a worldwide pandemic. Since then, we’ve had months of isolation, and most human interactions are dependent on screens. How much greater might these concerns be today?
Whether he realizes it or not, the Surgeon General is only repeating what God has already said in the opening pages of Genesis. “It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.”
Loneliness was the very first thing that God called “not good.” Before a serpent spoke, before our first parents rebelled, before sin even entered the world, we learn that God’s good gift of friendship is part of God’s good design for those made in the image of a relational God. Adam lived and walked with God in the Garden. He knew a level of intimacy with his creator that none of us will experience until Jesus returns. And yet, God says it was not good for him to be alone.
We see this idea alive and well in the life of Jesus throughout the Gospels. God the Son was in perfect relationship with his father, but he still lived an embodied life.
Jesus rubbed shoulders with people he called not just co-workers, not just ministry workers, but friends.
America is often known for her belief in rugged individualism. American Christianity has too often been guilty of cross-pollinating with that individualism in unhelpful ways. Our self-sufficient approach to life would’ve been quite foreign to the Bible’s original authors and audience.
Their identity as both the Old Testament and New Testament people of God involved collective interdependence. From cover to cover God’s constant refrain is, “I will be your God and you will be my people”. This people is not just meant to live in relationship with God, but in relationship with each other. A people meant to function as Christ’s own Body that needs each and every part.
We no longer live in Eden where all relationships were lived out in perfect harmony. And we have yet to enter the New Jerusalem where all relationships will be restored to perfect health and shalom. As a result, every single relationship we experience today is broken and messy.
But even in the midst of the pain, the unmet expectations, and the mess, friendship matters.
I hope you’ll consider joining my friend Elizabeth McKinney and me for a special, online mini-conference with Crossing Women on Saturday, June 27 as we discuss this topic.