A message from our Minister, Neil Dougall - March 2018
How should we tackle the epidemic of loneliness?
Mark Easton explored this issue in a recent article on the BBC website. In it he referred to some research which showed if you have good relationships, you will live longer. In fact having someone who loves you and whom you can talk to, has a greater impact than smoking does on how long you will live.
More people are living on their own now than used to. There are different reasons for this – changing patterns of relationships, relationship breakdown and the fact that we are living longer. Technology is a mixed blessing. Our phones and tablets allow us to stay in touch with people on the other side of the world. They also mean that we can do many tasks without meeting people. It turns out that a great deal of social interaction happened naturally when we bumped into people when we were doing those tasks.
There is, of course, a difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is choosing to be alone. Loneliness is being alone when you don’t want to be. All of us need both solitude and social interaction. The ideal balance between the two is different for every person.
We see this pattern in Jesus life. Mark describes how he was mobbed by people. ‘The whole town gathered at the door.’ Jesus gave himself to them for many hours. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. So, ‘very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed’ (Mark 1:32-37 ).
Our lives are richer when we have a healthy pattern of solitude and social interaction. Some people are so busy they never have a moment to be. That makes it difficult for them to hear God’s voice. Often they end up feeling overwhelmed by life and its demands. Some people are very isolated and long for meaningful interaction with other people. They feel desperately lonely and often don’t know how to change things. They end up feeling miserable and longing for contact.
Jesus can help us find the balance. On the one hand, God says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ We can and we should encourage one another to create moments of stillness. We don’t need to be afraid of solitude. We want to make sure there are moments in our lives when we can listen to the still, small voice of God.
On the other hand, when God created humans, he said, ‘It’s not good for them to be alone.’ We are created as social creatures. We are designed for relationship. We are intended to interact with others. So we can and we should be open to others around us. Both in our shared life as a congregation, and individually, we look out for people who seem to be alone. We invite them to join in.
As we do this we will be taking forward one of our three priorities for the next three years. We have said that we believe that God is calling us to focus on seeking to counter the loneliness and isolation experienced by many in our community, both through church activities and supporting initiatives in the community.
To see other messages from Neil, click on the appropriate month in the table below.
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