“More people live alone now than at any other time in history” — Eric Klinenberg
In 1950, 4 million people lived alone. Today, more than 32 million people live alone in the U.S., writes Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at New York University and the author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.
Living alone once sparked anxiety and the fear of loneliness. Now people of privilege separate from one another for the sake of freedom, control and personal space. Countless people do not have a personal connection or an intimate conversation for days.
We are increasingly disconnected from one another and social structures have disintegrated as described in the book Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam. Even in church where people are friendly with each other and espouse love but don’t necessarily include you. A visitor may get all the attention, or not. Less outgoing members may feel invisible. People can be with others and still feel lonely.
Technology can ease the pain; TV, radio, computers and cell phones. But it is increasingly acceptable to use electronic devices while with people. For someone who is in the company of a person who is spending a lot of time on their device there is a feeling of abandonment. The stages of “Blackberry Abandonment” are confusion, discomfort, irritation and then outrage (Pamela Eyring, Dir. Protocol School of Wash.,). Ever felt alone when in the presence of someone who is “cell-fish”?
There is an opportunity for the church here.
We can be aware of who is left out or alone in our social circles, and be sensitive to how others might feel. We can also reach out to people we know who do not have a faith community to belong to, or anyone to talk to about matters or life and death and faith.
As the church we can offer ministries that address our longing to communicate and connect. Church youth groups offer teenagers face–to–face conversations. Small groups are places where intimate conversations happen. The worship greeting line may offer the one hug someone receives that week. We can also listen to people who tell their stories.
In this spring season, I am mindful of the power of new life and love. Knowing you are loved makes all the difference; how we feel about ourselves and the way we relate to others.
God’s love can transform our lives and grow our hearts. Relationships in a faith community can embody the love of God.
I have seen people’s lives change utterly by the love of another; not necessarily a spouse or a parent. Love can transform our lives and help us be less anxious and feel connected, regardless of whether we live alone. Our society needs love and close relationships. The Church is good for that.
Pastor Helga Jansons of Kennewick is the Director for Evangelical Mission, Eastern Washington — Idaho Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.