When the podcast “Hidden Brain” notified listeners that they were producing an episode about loneliness among men, their voice mail box filled quickly. Here are two of the anonymous messages they received:
“Loneliness and social isolation has become more and more part of my daily life. It’s harder to make friends. It’s harder to find situations that I enjoy being in.”
“I have two or three friends that I have known since we were all teenagers. And other than that, if my wife weren’t around, I would be hard-pressed to have close friends other than those from a long time ago.”
The episode entitled, “Guys, We Have a Problem: How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men” Is a worthwhile dive into the topic. Loneliness is tied to a dramatic rise in suicide among men aged 50-54, even though, overall, suicide rates have gone down in the U.S. The podcast also includes some hopeful conversations with men who are trying to find solutions.
Loneliness is not limited to men, of course. One the ironies of our time is that the ability to be connected to other people 24/7, via a number of devices and platforms, has not led to an increase in intimacy – in fact, it may have the opposite effect. In a survey of nearly 28,000 college students on 51 campuses by the American College Health Association last year, more than 60 percent said that they had “felt very lonely” in the previous 12 months.
Tonight Christians remember the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples before the crucifixion. Surrounded by the twelve he chose as his companions, he knew that one of them was going to betray him. After supper, they spent the night in the Garden of Gethsemane. He begged his friends to stay awake with him, but none of them could – or did – not even the three with whom he was closest. Jesus in the Garden on Thursday night is a very human Jesus. He experiences loneliness, betrayal, fear; he feels he has been abandoned by his friends and even, perhaps, by God. In “Jesus Christ Superstar,” we hear him say, “Will no one stay awake with me? Peter, John, James?”
Even Jesus experienced loneliness. Tonight we empathize with him. And we realize that, because Jesus experienced loneliness, God knows what loneliness is like. And so, even in our loneliness, we are not alone.
On Maundy Thursday, we remember the human emotions Jesus experienced the last days of his earthly life. We empathize with them, with him. We know what it feels like to wonder about the loyalty of our friends. We know what isolation and abandonment and fear feel like. God doesn’t take away those difficult experiences, but God is with us in them – it is good news.
The story of the incarnation – God becoming flesh – is a story that embodies good news. The incarnation bridges the divide between God and humanity. When God chooses to walk on this earth as a human being, experiencing all human emotions, God finds a deeply personal way to connect with us. Because of the incarnation, God knows what our lives are like. Whether we are deeply joyful, or confused, or frightened, we are not alone.
I treasure and celebrate a personal memory every Maundy Thursday. It was on a Maundy Thursday evening, in the First Christian Church in Pittsburg, Kansas, that I was baptized. After me and my pastor’s class classmates were immersed, we changed clothes and emerged into the sanctuary, feeling excited, hair still damp, and received communion for the first time.
Like everyone else, I have experienced loneliness in my life. But I have also experienced communion and community as part of the body of Christ. I have been a part of many different congregations since that time. In each of them I have found friends and deep bonds that have sustained me and enriched me. This holy week, as we relive the events of Jesus’ life – the excruciating lows and the miraculous highs – we are grateful for the ties that bind us to one another, thanks to the God who chose to enter this world as a fully-feeling human being.