My family has been out of town for five days. Like most men with young children, I looked forward to time alone, with mental images of late-night poker games. Also like most men, being alone this long only reduces us to our most primal and unkempt form.
By the second day every meal was being served to me through a car window. The third day saw the same T-shirt as the second day.
On the fourth day I caught myself having a conversation with the dog and on the fifth day with myself. Thankfully I will be joining my family this week before I put my handprint on a volleyball and name it.
Loneliness affects us deeply and left unchecked it is toxic. Cigna released a study in January that found three in five Americans report feeling unknown and having no real relationships. Keep in mind these are pre-pandemic numbers.
The chronically lonely are 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease, 32 percent more likely to have a stroke, and are more prone to mental disorders and cognitive decline (especially in seniors). There is a reason for this.
Do you know the only thing in the creation story God said was not good? Man’s aloneness (Gen 2:18). This is not God confessing humanity’s design flaw. Yes, He was speaking to the purpose of marriage, but he was highlighting our most basic God-given need: relationships. We were created to be unalone.
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Being unalone doesn’t mean just having a spouse, golf buddies or even a small group at church. Those can be good things, but their lasting value is when they put us on a trajectory to the being fully seen, known and of relational consequence to another (Gen 2:25, Gal 6:2). One of the great tyrannies of sin is it brings a poisonous shame and causes us to buck against this reality.
The first thing Adam and Eve did when sin entered the world was dive into the trees to hide from God (Gen 3:7-8). They didn’t do this because they had done something wrong. They did this because they thought they were something wrong (Gen 3:10).
Adam and Eve were naked, exposed and believed if God saw what they really were, their most fundamental fear would be realized: He would reject them and they would be alone. The irony is, Adam and Eve were creating the very isolation they were trying to avoid by diving into the trees. We have been diving into trees ever since.
We all believe on a basic level people would reject us if they saw what and how we really are. So, we hide in forests of our own bravado, Instagram selfies and dating app profiles. Like Adam, we only end up creating the very isolation we are trying to avoid. Thankfully, God made women and men with the purpose of pursuing them.
While the first thing Adam and Eve might have done was go into hiding, the first thing God did was call them out of it (Gen 3:9). He didn’t do this to dole out consequences (though there were many). He did this so they would encounter the reality of His love and tell them He would one day fix the problem through a mysterious Savior (Gen 3:15).
Then – in a profound act of tenderness – God made clothes for Adam and Eve out of animal skins (Gen 3:21).
Jesus was that promised Savior and He didn’t become man to scold us for hiding in the trees (Jn 3:17). He became man to walk into them with us and all the unsavory things we store in there (Jn 1:14).
Jesus did this so we would know we are fully seen, loved and unalone (1 Cor 13:12). Also, so He could dress us once again, but not with animal skins. By His cross and resurrection He dresses us with His righteousness and we can never take it off (Rom 3:22, 11:29). He did all this inside our self-constructed forests so he could lead us out of them.
If the grace of a God who meets us in our hypocrisies, failures and curated photos teaches us anything, it is we no longer have anything to hide. We might be messy but we are loved and free to bring the battered truth of ourselves to God, others and even ourselves (which is often the hardest to do).
This gives us a compassionate eye to see others isolated in the trees and a heart free enough to run in after them. During this time marked by so much loneliness, let us live out the life of Christ by pursuing those lost in isolation.