I heard the most interesting phrase today. I think it sums up our culture quite well. “Crowded loneliness.” There was more to the quote than that, but I don’t remember it all. I don’t even remember who wrote it or said it. Those two words just jumped out at me. Crowded loneliness.
Isn’t it the truth? Wal-Mart is filled, crowded even, with lonely people. Our shopping malls and football stadiums and convention centers, our skyscrapers and factories and truck-stops, our schools and parks and, sadly, even our churches are all filled with lonely people.
We have more ways to stay connected and keep in touch than we have ever had before. We can instant message and text message and email. We can Skype and iChat. But I believe people are lonelier now than we’ve ever been.
Loneliness and un-connectedness or disconnectedness probably isn’t so surprising for those who do not belong to Christ. But for those of us who follow Jesus . . . well, we should expect more. We are part of the Body of Christ. We’re a part of something and Someone larger than ourselves. We’re supposed to have a lot of other body parts connected to us. So why are we so lonely?
The lady who spoke at a session I attended today admitted that there is a man who sits two pews in front of her every Sunday, and she’s never met him. Never spoken to him. She has memorized his hairline and what he wears each week, and she knows how tall he is –from the shoulders up, at least. But she has never spoken to him. She could probably reach out and touch him every week. At the very least, she could easily peg him with a paperwad. But she doesn’t know his name or what his voice sounds like or what his story is.
And I am the same way. There are people who sit in the back few rows of my church or in the balcony or on the other side somewhere hidden between people I do know. Several weeks ago, my husband and I were asked to go to the back and shake hands with people as they left. I found myself surprised by the number of people I could not name. These people are part of the same Body I am a part of. I should know them. I should know their names, their voices, their stories.
What blessings am I missing? How many of them are lonely because I don’t draw them into community? How many lonely people do I bump into throughout my days? And how can I start to chip away at the crowded loneliness around me?
Perhaps this is why our churches are not having a great deal of success in changing our world. Perhaps it’s because we have stopped being a community. Perhaps it’s because we’re all just as lonely as those outside our churches and we’ve forgotten that we have something to offer lonely people — belonging. We belong. To Christ, but also to each other. Maybe it’s time we start acting like it.