Social isolation, a pandemic, & the Church’s response
by Danielle Martell
In June of 2019, the Angus Reid Institute in conjunction with Cardus think tank, released the results of an online survey that explored the effects of social isolation on the lives of Canadians. The survey identified that long before the coronavirus pandemic, social isolation contributed to highly concerning feelings of loneliness among Canadians.
The poll identified five specific areas showing that 23 percent of people find themselves desolate, 10 percent report feeling lonely but not isolated, 15 percent feel isolated but not lonely, 31 percent express feeling moderately connected, and 22 percent feel cherished. It further indicated that those who are married with families enjoy higher levels of connectedness, while lower income levels can be a factor for those who feel a sense of desolation. Additionally, loneliness has a stronger impact on visible minorities.
The effect of faith-based activities
According to the study, an important factor contributing to a sense of connectedness was evident in those who engaged in “faith-based activities, such as praying, church attendance and community outreach.” Another thing that helped people connect was using technology like, “social media, texting or video calling.”
Health challenges of loneliness
In January of 2018, Ceylan Yeginsu reported in the New York Times that Britain had decided to hire a Minister of Loneliness. The article also warned about the negative health impacts of loneliness. Yeginsu explained that “Mark Robinson, the chief officer of Age UK, Britain’s largest charity working with older people, warned that the problem could kill.” According to that same article, Robinson contends that loneliness is “…proven to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” In June of 2019, Global news reported that “Britain considers loneliness an epidemic.”
Clearly Britain has taken the condition of loneliness very seriously. The Angus Reid summary explains that though the feeling of loneliness is subjective, it is helpful to identify that simply because someone is in a crowd of people, this does not necessarily mean they feel connected.
The value of meaningful relationships
Meaningful relationships are necessary to our wellbeing and care as people. As human beings, we are social by nature and we need one another for our support and enjoyment of life. We also help one another, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually.
What then does all this imply in a world faced with the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic and the mandate we are under to socially isolate in one form or another, even if that means keeping a certain distance from one another? How long will our cultural social isolation go on? How will this affect our jobs, our mental health, our physical, social and spiritual wellbeing? What happens for the many people who live alone at this time, have minimal social networks and family support, especially those who cannot access technology to help them stay connected? Though social isolation affects every age range, we often think of seniors who, at this time, struggle to connect through technology. While many seniors are very savvy with technology, for others, there is still a significant barrier to connecting by texting, social media, video conferencing, and online church. Perhaps old-fashioned letters and phone calls to those we know and love is a good strategy to keep telling them we love them.
The value of reaching out to strangers
What about reaching out to strangers? Maybe a hand-written note is a good way to brighten someone’s day. Perhaps offering to walk with someone while remaining two meters apart, is a nice way to say, “I care.” What about our own wellbeing? Caring for others is a helpful way to help ourselves not feel so isolated. For those of us who engage frequently in technological communications, now is the time, more than ever, to learn how to connect and stay connected.
The value of being connected to God
There’s another way though too. For Christians, our greatest support of connectedness is rooted in God. As the church we are always connected to God himself by the presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in us through faith in Jesus Christ. We are never alone. We always have someone to talk to, and to have deep, meaningful conversation with, who wisely guides us in life. We hear God speak in His word through the Bible. If we don’t have a Bible at home, we can ask a friend to get us one, or we can access a free one online.
Perhaps in our time alone, this is our time to be with God, not alone, but with God. We can read God’s word and we can pray. We can also pray with others on the phone and share the joy of Jesus with them. We can love others and keep telling people about God’s great love for them.
Love is the remedy for a lonely heart
Truly love must be the remedy for a lonely heart. For those of us who have access, we can also remain connected through online church, hearing God’s word taught and continuing to grow in faith. We need the broader church. We were never meant to be disciples of Jesus alone. Most churches today have gone to some form of online church service and are still seeking meaningful discipleship methods. Get connected. Get involved. And stay committed.
Remember, as the body of Christ, we are never alone. We are still united by the same Holy Spirit and we join Christians across the world and throughout the centuries as we worship God together. It’s time for us to find ways to share God’s love and our connected-ness with others.