Updated: Mar 10
By: Wendy Mattner
October 8th, 2021
In the coming weeks, let us take some time to focus in on the value of community and relationship. As we enter into COVID round 2, pandemic weariness has settled in and taken a toll on our society. It seems as though many of us have become content in our isolation and have forgotten how to be relational and love one another well. Many of us could use a reboot!
God's desire is for us abide with him first, and then use those very same "connecting principles" to go and connect with and love others.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself."1
This is the first of a 4-part series in which we'll take a closer look at the value of relational connection.
The Value of Community-Part 1
We are profoundly social creatures; God designed us that way. The triune God is intimate and close within himself, and he created us to be close to him. This heavenly pattern endures in our everyday life and relationships. It is built into our creation. We, as image-bearers, are made for community. We were not made to be isolated or alone, but to lean into and learn from one another. A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible desire of all people. We have been wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those desires are not met, we don't function as we should. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. The truth of the matter is that a sense of community and social connection is one of our fundamental human desires. And yet, somehow, we fool ourselves into thinking "we've got this." We take pride in our independence; pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, having a successful career and above all not depending on anyone.
We have been wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.
At the very start of the COVID outbreak last year, when the "new normal" was first rolling out, there was a feeling of uneasiness; both from within and without. We were told we had to stay home...we couldn't go to work, school, church, or even the grocery store. When in public, we had to "mask up." There was no vaccine on the horizon. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. People were panicking and... buying up all of the toilet paper??? We were fearful and forced to isolate ourselves and to ruminate on all of it. We would watch the news and fill ourselves with more fear and dread. I knew that this was not good for me or for those around me. And so, I decided to do something about it in my sphere of influence. As soon as the weather got warm enough to be outside, I contacted my neighbors and got together a group of gals who, like me, wanted community. We decided that we would meet several mornings a week, spread ourselves out using the 6' rule, and exercise together. But more importantly, we would also just connect. We would pray for each other. We would get refreshed...both body and soul.
And although it seems obvious that social connection improves physical health and emotional well-being, a study on social isolation in America revealed that social connectedness is waning at an alarming rate in the US. This survey (which was actually done years ahead of the current pandemic situation) suggested that 1 in 4 people that we meet have no one that they call a close friend. This decline in social connectedness may explain reported increases in loneliness, isolation, and alienation. Those who are not socially connected are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, and even suicidal behaviors which tend to further increase their isolation. This telling study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. 2
Those who are not socially connected are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, and even suicidal behaviors which tend to further increase their isolation.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the decline in connectedness, causing this past year to be particularly hard, and creating much concern about emotional health and well-being. Every one of us has been stretched and have experienced varying levels of “pandemic trauma.” We can’t minimize the effects of this in people’s lives. We’ve all experienced this trauma to one degree or another. We may avoid using the "t-word" because it seems so extreme…we want to reserve the use of this word for those who have gone to war, have experienced abuse or neglect, or something big like that. However, trauma grips all of us...and to varying degrees, we have all suffered from the isolation, along with the loss of health, life, employment, stability (economic and other,) normalcy, etc...
We are worn out, grieving and exhausted. We thought that we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, but no! It seems as though we are only heading into COVID 2.0. The feelings of weariness are very real! We have been forced into isolation and now we don't know how to get back into society again...we have forgotten how to be social. For some of us, it's actually scary to think about getting back into close contact with others; it all seems so overwhelming.
Give yourself a break; this past year has been incredibly hard, and both individual and collective healing will take time. If you feel anxious, worried or vulnerable, there is nothing wrong with you! These are normal human reactions to the current challenges of life.
If you feel anxious, worried or vulnerable, there is nothing wrong with you! These are normal human reactions to the current challenges of life.
News flash! God knows, understands and cares for you in the midst of your trials. Additionally, you are in VERY good company. Let's drop in on Elijah in I Kings chapters 18 & 19...
As we know, Elijah was a prophet and one of the spiritual giants of the scriptures. Actually, it was Elijah and Moses that appeared before Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration and he was definitely one of the "heavy hitters." In I Kings, we see Elijah on Mt Carmel. Both Elijah and the prophets of Baal have prepared a sacrifice; it's showdown time. The prophets prayed for Baal to send down fire, but there was no response, no one answered, and no one paid attention.
But then...Elijah! He thoroughly dowsed his sacrifice so that the water was running down off the altar and filling up the trench. Elijah then puts God's power on display by calling down fire from heaven. The fire of the Lord not only consumed the sacrifice, but also the wood, the stones and the soil, and finally, for good measure, also licked up the water in the trench.
Baal's prophets were clearly shown up, even as their prayers remained unanswered.
When the people saw this amazingly powerful and magnificent display, a revival began. The people fell down and worshiped God saying "The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!" Talk about a mountain-top experience! Wow!!
But then, what happens to Elijah after that? He runs back to Jezreel, assuming that the revival will continue. But when he arrives, he finds that the leaders have NOT changed and the people are NOT chanting! He is deeply disappointed. Jezebel issues a threat to come after Elijah and kill him (just as he had killed all of the prophets of Baal) and he is filled with fear. He actually has a complete and utter melt-down. Overcome with anxiety, the stress and the pressure is too much for him to handle. He is exhausted at every level. He isolates himself, runs away and wants to quit. He sits himself down under a broom tree and wants to die.
Actually, it is reassuring to know that Elijah, even Elijah, was not immune to the feelings of darkness. The same Elijah who fearlessly confronted the King of Israel and the prophets of Baal, who trusted God to provide food for him through a widow, and whose prayer could stop the rain, was now afraid for his life and could not even trust the Lord or offer up a prayer for his own protection.
Actually, it is reassuring to know that Elijah, even Elijah, was not immune to the feelings of darkness.
What a contradiction! And doesn't this remind you of each one of us? We go from pinnacle to valley, from peace to panic, and from faith to fear in a split second!
This is REAL! It was real for Elijah, and it is real for every one of us as well. Let's recognize the pattern, acknowledge the feelings of weariness and despondency that we feel, and give voice to it. Let's be honest and authentic with the struggle so that we can lift it up to the Lord and lift each other up as well. Let's lean into community and link arms with one another on the journey. It is encouraging to know that we are not alone! Open yourself up and speak to others about the emotional drain and trauma that the pandemic has caused for you and your family. Strive to set up boundaries for yourself, find the balance of work and rest, and work hard at the discipline of Sabbath rest and refreshment.
Let's recognize the pattern, acknowledge the feelings of weariness and despondency that we feel, and give voice to it.
And, here's some good news! The Lord cares, and desires to meet us right where we are. And right here, by our side, he ministers our weary and isolated souls saying..."come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." 4
Psychology Today, Connect to Thrive, Emma Seppala, August 26, 2012
I Kings 18 & 19
Mark 6: 31