Home Alone – Three-fold Alienation
We live in the most technologically connected culture in the history of the world. As a result of our phones, tablets, computers, and other devices, we can connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world. And yet, polls and studies show that loneliness is more pervasive now than at any other time in human history. Loneliness is one of the greatest struggles of our age.
Think about most TV commercials; they’re not really about the product they’re selling. They’re about fellowship, friendship, relationship and suggesting that their product can provide all these things. They show people having a great time together because advertisers know how deeply people hunger for connections. But frequently, our attention is consumed by technology, by everything except the people actually around us.
Even though there is this growing sense that this is a growing problem, and everyone experiences it from time to time, it feels vulnerable to actually say I’m lonely. I’m embarrassed that I’m lonely, and I don’t want you to know I’m lonely.
The feeling of loneliness is not confined to being alone. The most intense feelings of loneliness can happen in a crowd. Worse still is to have friends or family not understand you or your point of view, to feel alone in your opinion, or thoughts, your feelings, your concerns, your sorrows and sadness. Sometimes it’s even worse to have some good news or great joy and the people around you are unimpressed or uninterested.
You can be in a loving marriage, a close friendship, or relationship, a successful business partnership and still feel lonely sometimes. You can be in charge of many employees and have a lot of people working for you, you can be famous, with lots of people who want to meet you and talk with you and still feel very lonely.
Loneliness is much more than simply being alone, or without company; it’s an experience of alienation and isolation that is not chosen. That experience is painful and sad. We will often try anything or everything to ease the pain and sadness, or avoid it altogether, especially through many behaviors that are all ultimately self-defeating.
For example, some people turn to busyness. They frantically run through life. Why are they so busy? It is because they want to be busy. Artificial busyness makes them feel important and hides their loneliness from everybody else.
Some people hold onto a relationship with the wrong person, they’re co-dependant with someone they know is not good for them, but they stay with that person because they do not want to be alone. Others turn to stuff, thinking the right clothes, or car, or kitchen will fill their loneliness
To escape loneliness people self-medicate, abuse alcohol, or prescription drugs. Or they rely on binge eating and junk food, gambling, or pornography. Far worse, it can lead to anger, rage, despair, and the ultimate price: suicide. Suicide rates are at an all time high.
Loneliness can happen all the time, or anytime. We’re especially susceptible to it in times of transition. You change jobs, or schools, you lose a friend, a family member goes to college, the holidays are over, or the vacation comes to an end.
These times can be strange experiences in which the feeling of loneliness descends on us and even consumes us. Loneliness is a feeling. No matter how acutely we feel lonely, it’s only a feeling. We cannot let feelings rule the major parts of our lives. Therefore, it is incredibly helpful to name and know our feelings, and very important to try and understand them.
While we experience loneliness differently today, than at any other time in history, loneliness is not a new phenomenon. Loneliness is almost as old as human history. The original cause of loneliness was sin. Original Sin. When God created the world, God anticipated this feeling, that’s why he said: It is not good for the man to be alone. Loneliness was not a part of the experience God designed for us.
But then sin entered the world. Adam and Eve decided to disobey the only law God had given them. They put themselves at the center of things rather than holding God in the center of their lives. In Scripture, we can see very clearly that their sin, in turn, leads to an alienation that is three-fold. Sin leads to a “three-fold alienation.”
The first tier of our loneliness is our alienation from others. Most obviously, we experience loneliness when we are alienated or separated from others against our wishes, either physically or emotionally. This is Adam and Eve. They sin and what’s the first consequence of their sin? They start experiencing problems in their marriage.
The second tier of our loneliness is our alienation from ourselves. As a result of sin, we are not comfortable in our own skin. This is Adam and Eve. They sin, and they quickly discover they’re naked, and that fills them with shame. They are no longer comfortable in their own skin.
The third tier of our loneliness is our alienation from God. This is Adam and Eve, as well. They sin. And then they run away and try to hide from God. Of course God is always present with us. But that doesn’t mean we will always feel his presence. Sin makes God’s presence much less clear and more difficult to understand. Because when we sin we are focused on ourselves.
Our loneliness is a reminder of our human condition – that we have work to do. We have work to do in order to restore harmony in our relationships: harmony with self, harmony with others, and harmony with God.
Ultimately, Jesus Christ came to help us out and make this happen, offering healing and wholeness by restoring and reestablishing our relationship with God; thereby, making possible right relationships among ourselves and within ourselves.
Jesus is always asking his disciples to deeply consider their relationships with self, others, and God.
Today we are in the Gospel of Matthew, in the fifth chapter. Throughout this chapter Jesus delivered his core message outlining how he wants his followers to approach life and relationships. He begins by establishing their identity. They are to live out his teachings from this understanding of –who– –they– –are–, as God sees them. Jesus tells them: “You are the salt of the earth.”
Salt in the ancient world was a valuable commodity. We get our English word salary from salt because soldiers and others were sometimes paid in salt. Salt served as a preservative, but more importantly, it was flavoring for food.
This is more significant than it sounds at first. Jesus tells his audience, who for the most part – lacked any kind of political or social influence, – who lacked most material resources – people who were fairly impoverished – people who lived in obscurity in backwater communities. He tells these people, improbably, that THEY are the salt of the earth.
If his followers had been asking the question. “Who are we?” The obvious answer was “You are nobodies.” You are overtaxed and overwhelmed by the Roman occupiers, as well as being overwhelmed by your own intolerant and oppressive religious leaders. Everybody abuses you. Nobody cares about you. No one is paying attention to you. No one is listening. You have no influence, no voice, no rights. You probably have, no resources, no wealth.
Yet, it was precisely many of these early followers who would go on to turn the world upside down with the message of the Gospel.
Just like salt changes the flavor of food, Jesus’ followers would change the world.
He tells his disciples you are salt. AND you are the light of the world.
Lights are put in strategic places to illuminate interiors. Especially at that time when lighting was limited and expensive. In the same way, he is suggesting his disciples will be like that.
God wants his friends and followers, like you, to be salt, providing flavor to the world around them. He wants us to be light, strategically illuminating our community with the grace and truth of the Gospel. Wherever we are, in whatever environment we spend our time…. at work, at school, on a sports field, or the groups in which we gather, your Christian faith is not a private possession to be held in isolation from those around you. Your faith should be illuminating. Your faith should be flavoring your relationships.
You know, while we think our environments are somewhat accidental or random, they never are. God has placed us exactly where he wants us to be, right now, to be salt and light there.
Being salt and light is all about restoring right relationships with ourselves, others and God. And ultimately living in those restored relationships is the way to overcome loneliness. Do you want to overcome loneliness? Over the next few weeks we’re talking about that. I invite you to make a commitment to this series, by coming back and joining us here. You can also find all of our homilies online on our website both in text and audio.
We are going to look at steps we can take to bring about that harmony that eliminates loneliness and equips us to fulfill the vision and purpose God has in mind for us.