You will be found. You will be found. When our daughter, Lily, was younger she loved to hear the story of The Lost Sheep and she loved to pretend she was the lost sheep. She would go and hide somewhere in our house and then I would pretend to be the Good Shepherd and try and find her. I would call out her name, look behind furniture and under blankets, and then the moment would come when I would find her. She LOVED that moment when she was found. And then she would ask to play it again.
The song that Tru Gumption just shared comes from the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. Without giving too much away, the story is about a High School senior, Evan Hansen, who suffers with a social anxiety disorder which makes it difficult for him to develop friendships. The musical takes on multiple issues including family struggles, loneliness, suicide, and the deep longing for friendships and human connection.
The song You Will Be Found speaks powerfully of our human need to be known, to be found, to be loved. Yet for many, this is very difficult to find. Millions of people suffer from social isolation and the loneliness that it fuels. Perhaps some of you have seen that England has recently appointed a minister for loneliness, a government appointed position, to tackle the isolation felt by more than one in 10 people in the UK. Most doctors in Britain see between one and five patients a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely. They are specifically focusing on the elderly and the health threat that isolation poses to the elderly. But we know that loneliness is experienced across the spectrum of ages and it comes with some pretty big health risks. Recent studies have shown that chronic loneliness is more life-threatening than obesity and smoking. Some have come to call the global trend of isolationism a “loneliness epidemic.”
Researcher Susan Pinker studied people living on the Italian island of Sardinia to learn why they had more than six times as many centenarians as the mainland and ten times as many as North America. What she found is that it is not a positive attitude or a low-fat, gluten-free diet that keeps the islanders alive so long—it is their emphasis on close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions. In other words, no one on the island was left to live a solitary, isolated life.
In another study done by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, similar results were found. Julianne studied over 300,000 people who were in their middle age years. She learned all about them—their lifestyle, their DNA, their behavior patterns, and then she and her team waited 7 years. They then went back to see who was still standing. And they asked the question of the people still living “What reduced their chance of dying the most?” The top two indicators had nothing to do with diet, exercise, or being the right weight. The two top indicators that helped to keep these people alive were: Close relationships—the person had at least three stable, close relationships; and social integration—meaning how much did the person interact with others during his/her day.
Studies also have shown the biological benefits we gain from having strong, social interactions which add to our overall health. Face-to-face interactions with people release a whole cascade of neurotransmitters that foster trust, release stress, kill pain, and induce pleasure. We can say then that we have a biological imperative to belong, to connect with others.
It is important to mention that our digital interactions, those interactions we are making online, via texting, messaging, etc. do not generate the same health benefits as face to face interactions. And this presents challenges to us because a number of studies are showing that we are spending an average of 11 hours a day online. We are spending more time online than we are sleeping.
So knowing this, I find it interesting to think about the role of faith and church as two very important lifelines in facing loneliness and social isolation.
First let’s start with our faith. The God of the Hebrew Bible, and the God that we know through Jesus, is a God who desires to be with us, is a God who seeks us and finds us. Jesus shares in the parables about the search to find the lost and the joy that God experiences when the lost are found. And we are searching people. We have this longing to find fulfillment, inner peace and contentment. St. Augustine who lived in the 4th and 5th century was very aware of this longing. He said that “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
There is certainly a mysteriousness of what goes on internally when we make this connection with God. We cannot explain it scientifically but this sense of belonging to God ignites our faith, gives us strength, and reminds us that we are not alone.
It’s always fascinating for me to read of people’s faith stories and how they made this connection. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, grew up believing that his salvation hinged on him doing good works. He spent his life striving to earn God’s favor, trying to live a morally upright life. This left him lonely, depressed and afraid of God. One night as he was reading scripture, he happened on an insight that utterly transformed his relationship with God. He came to the insight that it is God’s grace and mercy that connects us with God, nothing else. This transformed him from the inside out. He connected with God through grace and this brought him new life and a new orientation to faith.
For me it was the words in John 14 that Jesus shared with his disciples—he promised that he would not leave them orphaned, that he would send them the Holy Spirit that would live in them and be their comfort and guide. This notion of not being orphaned struck a chord in me as one who lost my mom to cancer when I was a young girl. I took to heart the promise from Jesus that I, too, would not be orphaned. Again, we often struggle with words to explain this internal dynamic of Grace but it indeed makes an enormous difference in our lives.
Now I’m not suggesting that just by having faith, one will be cured of their loneliness. We know many stories of great faith leaders and ordinary people of faith who have had experiences of loneliness and isolation. Yet our faith can be a road marker that leads us as we go through times of struggle and loneliness.
Second, our faith calls us to be gathered together in a church. Just a side bar here—a few weeks ago in our middle school time, I gave the youth (for fun) a True/False Quiz “What Do I Know About Christianity?” And one of the questions was True or False “The word ‘church’ refers to a building that Christians use for worship.” Most of the youth said this was true. But technically this is false. The word church translated from Greek means “out from among” and “to call”. Therefore, the church represents those whom God has called out from among the world and from all walks of life. The church is not a building, but a people.
The New Testament describes the Christian life as being lived in the context of the
family of God and not in isolation. Maybe God knew that it would be too difficult to live out our faith journeys alone. And Jesus certainly modeled for us a faith that is lived out in community. He didn’t go it alone. I can’t help but believe that Jesus experienced within his community joy, support, encouragement and trust. And even when he felt the stings of betrayal and misunderstanding within his community, Jesus stayed committed to his friends. He didn’t run away from them. In fact, he didn’t even seem surprised by their behavior. He knew human nature and he believed in the power of reconciliation. Jesus gives to his disciples and to us a new commandment for being together. He says “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, then to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This kind of love in community is how we are found. This kind of love says we are not in this alone. This kind of love enables us to be honest with each other, to trust one another, and to share our vulnerabilities with one another. This kind of love forgives, this kind of love challenges, this kind of love never gives up.
It is my hope that through faith and through church you will be found, I will be found, we all will be found. Amen.