Prolonged isolation from other people puts our emotional and physical health at risk. It's hard on immune systems, boosts inflammation, and releases stress hormones.
Despite the fact that we don't talk about it much as a culture, it's common to experience loneliness. In a recent study, 40 percent of adults described themselves as lonely at any given time. Isolation and loneliness often go hand-in-hand. When we're feeling lonely, we often unintentionally isolate from others, and the more isolated we are, the more lonely we feel. It's a difficult cycle, and it isn't always obvious to other people when we're experiencing a sense of isolation. It's very possible to be surrounded by people every day and still feel profound loneliness.
Even before modern-day physicians and scientists were able to measure the negative health implications of isolation and loneliness, Jesus already knew that it wasn't good for individuals to be separated from the wider community. He understood that people needed friendships and connections in order to thrive. So throughout his ministry, Jesus did what he could to guide people from a place of separation into a place of connectedness.
We're spending the season of Lent journeying with Jesus from life's challenges toward more hopeful possibilities, and we're using the Gospel of Luke as our map. For this second week of the series, we're wandering with Jesus from isolation toward community.
For today's purposes, we'll consider isolation to be any force that prevents an individual or group of individuals from developing authentic, connected relationships with others. In biblical times, there were specific illnesses and behaviors that left people ostracized from the wider community. Specific examples included leprosy, bleeding disorders, mental health challenges, vocations of ill-repute, and not fitting into traditional standards for marriage and family.
Today, in addition to all the factors that caused people to experience isolation in Jesus' time, there are other forces that also separate us from others. Incarceration, depression, brokenness within family systems, financial struggles, and chronic illness just to name a few. Memory loss and transportation difficulties can also threaten to isolate individuals.
In the Gospel of Luke and in our lives today, Jesus offers us an invitation to step toward community and away from isolation.
In Luke, chapter 5, verses 12-15, Jesus interacts with a man who has a leprosy. He heals the man and invites the man to "go and show" himself to the religious leader. In doing so, the man could be reunited with the broader community. Jesus' pattern of healing people and then returning them to the wider community is frequent in Luke's gospel.
Whether we're isolated due to an illness or family drama or oppressive voices from the past, Jesus invites us to build connections … with him and with others.
When Jesus healed people and spent time with those previously considered unclean, he rehumanized them. He reminded them that their lives mattered … that regardless of whatever isolated them in the past, it didn't have to separate them anymore.
It is worth noting that Jesus didn't define what community had to look like in order to be life-giving. A community doesn't need to be large in order to be valuable. It's about quality and not quantity. A person doesn't need 2,000 Facebook friends to have a community. Sometimes one or two trusted companions for the journey is all it takes to step out of isolation toward connectedness.
Are you feeling isolated? Seeking ways to step toward community? If you're unsure about next steps, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll share some community resources and ideas for ways to help you get connected. In the meantime, know that you matter and you're not alone.
Jesus invites us all away from isolation toward community. May God grant us the courage to connect with one another and the awareness to recognize the value of everyone we meet.