Loneliness and the New Year

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:

 

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Twitter, Social Media, and True Influence

I have always been a late adaptor when it comes to technology and social media. For example, I waited several years before joining Facebook. When I finally joined back in 2009, one of my college friends joked, “Welcome to 2006, Dan!” Well, after several years of holding out, I finally decided to give another social media sensation a try – Twitter. Someone invited me to join so I thought why not give it a try? Long story short, I closed my Twitter account after only 1 week and 6 “tweets”.

I was surprised by all the random people who signed up to follow my account. Why did these people want to follow me? As I looked into their accounts, I noticed that many of them were following thousands of other people. Sure, they had thousands of followers themselves, but I found it curious that they were following so many people on Twitter. Obviously, they weren’t truly “following” them, which means it was more about self-promotion than anything. “I’ll sign up to follow you, and then you sign up to follow me, ok?” That’s the kind of game they were playing.

To be sure, not everyone on Twitter is like this. I’m sure that some people use Twitter for noble purposes. It certainly doesn’t encourage sustained critical thought (a maximum of 140 characters per tweet), but for some, it is a useful tool for sharing information and I am not necessarily suggesting you close your Twitter account. However, as the digital age continues to transform our society and particularly, how we communicate, there are few things we need to keep in mind as Christians.

First, be careful not to let the technology rule you. Social media can be a great time waster. I remember reading a blog post by a Christian leader announcing that he had just reached 20000 tweets. It doesn’t take long to produce a tweet (or Facebook post), but I can’t help but think this guy wasted a lot of time on his way to 20,000 tweets. Although you might think the world needs to know what you had for lunch, the truth is, no one really cares, regardless of how many followers or friends you have. Be careful not to let social media (or anything) take you away from what is most important.

Second, measuring one’s influence by the number of Twitter followers, or Facebook friends, or blog hits-per-day is not a good measuring stick. Stats and numbers can be very seductive and we must not fall into the trap of equating them with influence. Most of the time, we never really know how God used a particular post. There are times where people comment and join the conversation, but most of the time, the best thing we can do is surrender our work over to God and say – use this (whatever it may be).

Third, our influence is often best realized in one to one relationships. For example, two people studying the Word of God together can be flat out powerful (check out Acts 8:30-35)! In the Gospels, we see how Jesus modeled this with the disciples. If anyone ever had the ability to draw a crowd, it was Jesus. On occasion Jesus did preach to the masses, but his main focus was investing in the Twelve, and to a lesser extent, the 72 (Luke 10:1). For Christian leaders today, there is the temptation to focus more your social media network than on discipling a few people in your church. As you crunch the numbers, there is a very simple reason we are inclined to think this way. I can reach hundreds with a blog post (for some of you thousands), while I can only reach 2 or 3 or 4 in one-to-one discipleship. So which is a better stewardship of my time? Well actually, unless you are John Piper or Albert Mohler, the best use of your time will be in one-to-one discipling and in focusing on your weekly preaching and teaching responsibilities. As the maxim goes, we have to have a big enough vision to think small.

Fourth, find time to get away from the computer and social media and all the distractions the world offers. As a late adaptor, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t yet have a mobile device like an iphone or an android. I just have a plain old cell phone and it serves me well. However, I still struggle to pull myself away from the computer at times. If you have a curious mind, the internet can be a serious distraction and it can have the effect of tuning out the voice of Jesus in your life. Don’t rely upon the internet or social media for your information feed. Instead, develop a rich devotional life with daily time for just you and God, without the distractions of the outside world.

Fifth, if you are going to tell the world something via social media, blogging, or some other form of media, make sure it is something worth saying. There is a lot of information floating around in cyberspace and if you are going to add to it, make sure it’s edifying. Every once in a while, our church has a testimony time and sometimes I encourage our people to follow the ABC’s of sharing. It should be Audible, Brief, and Christ-centered. I think this fits for our discussion here. No point in wasting your time or someone else’s either. And if it’s not Christ-centered, then it’s really not that important.

I quit “tweeting”, but I haven’t given up on blogging (obviously), Facebook (at least yet), or of utilizing of our modern communication mediums. If you are a pastor, my advice is to focus on the things that Pastors have always focused on – prayer, the Word, and on training up the next generation of leaders (2 Timothy 2:2). By all means, use modern technology to accomplish that, just make sure you are not “used” by the technology.