I’ve seen several humorous memes about quarantine being an introvert’s dream. The coronavirus has unplugged us from our relational rhythms, and this is a relief for the relationally overwhelmed. Though we’ll still pray for the sick and seek to love the vulnerable, I know more than one person who is thrilled to stay home and watch Netflix.
I get it. As a pastor and father to small children, my life is filled with people. At the glimpse of that rare and beautiful creature—solitude—my heart gets giddy, and my mind daydreams about everything I’ll finally be able to accomplish.
Yet, after the initial rush of autonomy that comes from being alone, I get lonely. I miss people. Specifically, I miss my people—my family, friends, and church. And I can’t help but wonder if we’ll experience a similar pattern in the coming weeks.
We’ll take an initial sigh of relief as we unplug from society. Perhaps, many of us will realize for the first time that our pace of life is unhealthy. We’ll laugh at TV shows, eat the stockpiled junk food we never would’ve bought otherwise, and bask in the sun of isolation.
But, for many, time will give way to sadness, increased anxiety, depression, and a deeper longing for human connectivity. The loneliness epidemic has been growing for some time now—could “social distancing” push our culture’s loneliness epidemic into a pandemic?
I think so.
Forced to Be Alone
For many, the greatest form of torture is to be alone with themselves. This is why we entertain ourselves with noise, distractions, and medication. It’s also sometimes why we fill our schedules with interactions.
But what do we do when the CDC encourages us to disengage for ever-increasing periods of time?
The loneliness epidemic has been growing for some time now—could ‘social distancing’ push our culture’s loneliness epidemic into a pandemic?
This early in the quarantine, even experts disagree about the intricacies of what social distancing means. But this much is clear: our social lives have been turned upside down. In the same way people are talking about an economic recession, we shouldn’t be surprised if we see a “social recession.”
While we rarely choose lonely places for ourselves, lonely places await us. But our God never wastes any of our experiences in his world; he takes what is intended for evil and works a miraculous good (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28).
Historically, the church has followed Jesus’s pattern of entering into the “lonely places” in order to re-engage in a more wholehearted and sacrificial way (Luke 5:16). Solitude and silence create the necessary places for us to hear what’s actually going on in our souls.
Our first hurdle in the days to come is to choose not to make our lonely places loud places. This moment in history is spoonfeeding us the opportunity to get still and silent with our God. Hidden in this pandemic is an invitation from him to draw near, to be still, and to know that he is God—even though it may feel the whole earth is crashing down around us (Ps. 46).
Our first hurdle in the days to come is to choose not to make our lonely places loud places.
Don’t hear me making light of the difficulties, the anxieties, or especially the increased risk for some to slip into deeper depression because of their loneliness. These are real, and we must carry one another’s burdens to God in prayer.
But let’s not miss the opportunity we have to meet with the living God in this moment. As we shut ourselves off from the world, let’s not shut down our interaction with God. Let’s reject the voices that want to lure us into fear or senseless numbing. Instead, let’s quiet our souls in the presence of our good and sovereign King (Ps. 131).
Meeting Your Soul’s Need
Your loneliness reveals that you are created for relationships; let your desire for relationships direct your soul toward God. This isn’t some retreat into the wilderness of isolation in an attempt to deny the reality we face. Rather, cultivating your relationship with Jesus is for your good, as well as for the good of others.
Your loneliness is a chance to engage with Jesus in lament. We lament the brokenness of our world that sicknesses like the coronavirus even exist. We lament the senseless loss of all who suffered unto death. We lament the fear and anxiety rampant in our homes and social groups. We lament the loss of human connectivity and touch. We lament the inability to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We lament this pandemic, and all the horrible results that have and will come out of it. We lament and cry out, How long, O sovereign Lord?
Your loneliness is a chance to engage with Jesus in intercession. We pray for medical professionals. We pray for the sick. We pray for those experiencing increased depression and anxiety. We pray and ask God to intervene.
Last, your loneliness is a chance to engage with others. While technology certainly can’t replace the embodied spirituality and relationality we all need, it’s certainly better than nothing.
Your loneliness is an opportunity.
As you run into the lonely places with Jesus, you’ll find your soul’s needs met. Then you’ll be able to reach out to others—not looking to them for your soul’s needs but loving them as a representative for an all-sufficient Christ (2 Cor. 5:14–20).
What would it look like if you called one person in your church and one friend outside your church every day just to check on them? What would happen if you left a note on your neighbor’s door asking if you can pick up groceries for them? How would someone’s life be changed if you penned a handwritten note about how you’re praying for them?
Until We Meet Again
I don’t know about you, but I’m mourning “social distancing.” I’m already longing to be with my people again. We have a long and unknown road ahead of us. But I know this is true—Jesus is with us, and we’re never truly alone. He’s closer than any friend, brother, or lover. He holds us in the midst of all this chaos and isolation. Our Jesus is good!
I also know this: the church will be together again. All of us—introverts included—will sing a little louder, smile a little bigger as we greet each other, and sigh with relief as human contact is no longer a thing to fear.
Until we meet again, let’s not run from the lonely places; let’s run into them and meet Jesus there. Until we meet again, let’s not mourn or fear as those who don’t have hope. Instead, let’s mourn with those who mourn. And let’s hope that we will all be better for this pandemic—because this is just the kind of chaotic moment God uses to do his most creative work.