When my oldest son Owen was an infant, I would spread a quilt on the living room floor, patchwork sailboats stretching from the foot of the slipcovered couch to the beige wall of our tiny apartment. Owen and I would lie down, and he would forsake his toys in favor of playing with my tangled hair, the color of which surprised me every time he covered my eyes with it. “I used to be blonde,” I would think as I brushed back the reddish strands. “Bringing you into the world really did change everything.”
I had made a hair-color-and-everything-else-is-changing entrance into motherhood and it conjured in me a deeper sense of isolation than I had ever known. Yet there I was, lying on the floor, my throbbing need for something from others was only outmatched by the infant working knots into my hair who depended upon my body for literal sustenance.
I wonder what it was for you, what you think of as the season of your greatest lack of connection. If motherhood, or parenthood, or family life at all don’t strike a chord for you—don’t click away just yet. I am not here to talk about being a mother, not really. I am here to talk about the common ache of being human.
In a Forbes article called “Why Millennials Are Lonely,” Caroline Beaton writes that “loneliness is contagious.” People who are “directly connected to” a lonely person are 52% more likely to be lonely themselves. The point is that, as Beaton observes, “people who aren’t lonely tend to then become lonelier if they’re around people who are.”
The sad reality is plain—loneliness breeds more loneliness, both in the lonely individual and in those near her at home, at work, and at play. As Beaton says, “We’re getting lonelier.”
While we may like to imagine that two people existing near each other would be an alleviator of loneliness, our lives tell a different story. We dwell in subdivisions with houses nearly touching each other, or apartment complexes with shared walls, yet years go by without inviting a neighbor inside our home, or having an invitation extended to us.
Some Christians have been aware of this modern-day dilemma for a while now, hence the surging emphasis on “community” and “doing life together.” In some cases, this trend has offered needed and meaningful belonging to lonely hearts. In many others, it has provided a few hours of connection that do not alleviate, and perhaps even compound, a sense of isolation—I’m around people regularly. How can I feel so alone?
Others of us are unaware of our loneliness, or the loneliness of those around us. Perhaps our busy schedules, full stomachs, and endless conveniences keep us anesthetized to our deeper longings, or blinded to the longings of those around us. We work hard and play hard, prioritizing productivity and efficiency as naturally as we breathe in and out. We fall into bed at night run ragged, minds too tired and hearts too depleted to wonder if something is lacking in us or in those we see each day. The next morning, we wake up and do it all again.
Our lives are full, but are they whole?
This second pour of The Steep is our introduction to what I hope will be a collaborative exploration of loneliness, isolation, friendship, and the way we understand individual and collective identity. What do we mean when we say “friend,” “belonging,” “community”? Do we like what we mean? Do we know what we mean? Do we want to mean something more, but we’re not sure what?
I am confident that we can arrive at some hopeful conclusions together, but beyond final answers, I have a hunch that our deepest satisfaction will be found on the quest for common understanding.
So, let’s chat loneliness. You can share your own moments of aching for belonging (or topics related to community and friendship that you hope I’ll cover) out in the wild Twitter open by using #TheSteep, or you can share with me personally at abbyjoyperry (at) gmail (dot) com. An individual investigation into the topic of community seems silly at best and foolish at worst, so I hope you’ll consider this pursuit as much yours as it is mine—we’ll be better together.
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