When I was in college, I had the opportunity to attend the Urbana Student Missions conference in Urbana, Illinois (now held in St. Louis). Urbana is a tri-annual conference that hosts thousands of students from around the world. This was a great experience and I look back on it with fond memories, however I will never forget how it ended for me. The conference takes place over the last 5 days of December and on the last night, as the conference concludes, attenders bring in the new year together. Depending on your personality, being in an arena with 20000 people bringing in the new year sounds kind of exciting, don’t you think? But I will never forget the feeling of loneliness that swept over me as the clock struck 12 and people started hugging and high-fiving. I had come to the conference by myself and didn’t know anyone else around me, so I naturally felt alone at this moment where normally you are surrounded by friends and family. The whole conference I was totally fine being alone (I’m more of an introvert), but at that moment, even though I was surrounded by thousands of people, I felt alone.
I had to chuckle to myself when I thought about how different this past new year was compared to the one I described back in 2003. Steph and I put the kids down at 8:30, we were in bed by 10:30, and we slept our way into the new year. In the morning I told the family…..Happy New Year! All that to say, at this stage of our lives, we don’t feel the need to be part of a big shindig to bring in the new year.
Remembering my Urbana experience was a reminder to me, however, that loneliness is a real problem for many, especially around the holiday season. Just last week a friend of mine confessed that as he took inventory of his own life, he realized that he didn’t have many close friends. He has a lot of acquaintances, but not many real, genuine friendships. Without question, he is not alone (forgive the pun). I’m sure there are a number of reasons that people (including Christians), struggle with loneliness and I believe that social media is one of those reasons. For example, we can have hundreds, and even thousands of Facebook “friends” but still struggle with friendship. Often, we are more comfortable communicating with someone through the medium of a screen rather than in person. It’s a crazy new world that we live in, and one that is not necessarily conducive to fostering genuine, meaningful relationships.
One of the Proverbs tells us: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). These bosom-buddy, kindred-spirit, blood brother type of friendships are a rare commodity today. Sometimes the “man of many companions” scenario looks attractive, but if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that we would rather have a few close friendships than dozens of superficial friendships. Deep down in our hearts, I think most of us long for a “David and Jonathan” kind of relationship (see 1 Samuel 18:1-4) that goes deep and stands the test of time. These relationships can be tough and messy at times, but everyone would agree they are worth it.
In this new year of 2018, let me encourage you to fight loneliness in four ways:
- Draw near to God (Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:22) and grow in your relationship with the One who is a friend of sinners (John 15:15).
- Work hard to invest in a few close, meaningful friendships. Identify these true friends and then strive to serve them, bless them, and love them (John 13:34-35).
- Ask God to help you appreciate and invest more in your family. Truly, “family” is a wonderful gift of God and as Satan tries to rip our families apart, we must grow stronger and closer together.
- Get plugged into the Body of Christ – the family of God here on earth. The Church often gets a bad rap these days, but it is the institution that God created to represent Christ to the watching world (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Peter 2:9-10). We would do well to attach ourselves to what God is doing in this world through His Church.
Happy New Year!