Loneliness and Connection

Homily, Loneliness and Connection
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2021
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Tequesta, FL

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God looked out over the formless void of darkness and spoke, “Let there be light” And when God saw the light, God said “it is good.
Then God spoke again “Let there be sky and ocean. Let there be land and plants and trees” And seeing it all come into existence, God said again, “It is good.” 
Then God created the Sun, and the moon, and the stars above and said again, “It is good.”
God spoke into being the birds of the sky and the fish of the waters, “It is good.” 
Next God filled the earth with living creatures of every kind, “It is good.”
And finally God created humanity, in all their complexity, and looked over the entire universe in all its beauty and proclaimed, “It is very good.”

But there on the earth stood a single being. Alone. Without companionship. Without a friend in the world. And God looked and said, “It is not good.”

I wonder if I took a survey this morning how many of us would describe ourselves as lonely. 

Last year Cigna Health published the results of an extensive survey on loneliness which found that more than 3 in 5 Americans today are lonely. That’s more than 60% of us that are lonely. The survey found that the experience of loneliness was one that cut across all age demographics. That among all of us to some extent is the experience of loneliness.

So loneliness is a common feature in our lives. Even if we wouldn’t describe ourselves as lonely  today, we’ve all gone through periods of our lives where loneliness was our most intimate companion. 

Some of us are lonely because of the loss of a beloved spouse, partner, friend, parent, child. Some of us are lonely because we find ourselves too busy to foster relationships outside of work. Some of us are lonely because we feel like we haven’t found the right person with which to share our lives and deepest selves. And some of us, despite being surrounded by family and friends and even spouses find ourselves lonely and aren’t even really sure why. Loneliness effects us all.

In our reading from Genesis this morning we find a story about loneliness. We encounter a person, a human, in the Hebrew the word is adam, Adam, which literally means man, or human. We encounter a human lost in the experience of loneliness. And while technically maybe this human was the only person on the planet, this human was also surrounded by other living beings. Thousands of other creatures, and each one known by him on a first name basis. 

We don’t know how long in this story he lived among them, but one by one he met them all with the hope of finding someone with which to share life. Someone through which his craving for connection would finally be met. But he found no one. I wonder how many of us can identify with that. 

But thankfully in this story, as most of us will know, after a long and deep sleep that human found himself face to face with another person and for the first time in his life felt a real connection with another being. But what was it about this being that ended his loneliness? What was is it about this relationship that allowed him to feel really connected? 

I wonder if it was because this time he gave not only a word, a name; but he gave a part of himself. I wonder if it was because he allowed himself to be broken open and changed by another being. What if this story about God taking a rib from one human to create another human is actually a story about vulnerability and allowing ourselves to be changed by the people we encounter in our relationships?

Too often in life we see others not as fellow beings but as a means to an end. We see others as a means for receiving something that we want. For receiving affirmation, for receiving pleasure, for receiving safety and security. And this happens not only in our relationships with acquaintances and those we may come across on the street, but often even in our closest relationships—in our friendships, in our marriages, we start to see others for what they give us and we form attachments to what makes us comfortable. We lose our vulnerability. Rather than allowing others into our lives so that we might be impacted or even changed by the relationship, we expect others to shape themselves according to what makes us comfortable. So rather than actually sharing life with other people, we keep ourselves at just the right distance that we don’t have to change or feel vulnerable. Rather than the giving of ourselves like the man in our story today, we only receive. And so surrounded by people, we’re lonely—too afraid to open ourselves to others and others too afraid to open themselves to us. 

But according to Scripture we were created for community. We were created for real, authentic, vulnerable relationships of giving and receiving. It’s not good for humans to be alone, God said. And throughout the entirety of Scripture we see a God over and over find ways to bring us deeper into relationship with one another and deeper into a relationship with the God who made us. And so in our story this morning God comes down and opens the human up—imagine how vulnerable that must of felt—God opens the human up so that he might share something of himself with another being. 

Often in our loneliness we ask God to bring us another person, bring us someone to keep us company, bring us someone to meet our need for companionship, but I wonder what would happen if we prayed for God to break us open so that we might give of ourselves to others just as Christ’s body was broken for us on the cross. I wonder what would happen if we prayed for God to open us so that there might be room for others inside our being?

And it’s important to note that not everyone will open themselves up to us. And that’s alright. Sometimes a relationship will be impossible. God is calling us to be vulnerable, but God is not calling us to be abused in our relationships. That’s not authentic connection. But there will be others in our lives longing for that same connection for which we long, and God is asking them to give of themselves too. 

Loneliness is a heavy and complex thing that can’t be fixed over night, but I believe there is a God who is working endlessly to draw us closer together, and I believe that God is calling us to partner in that work by sharing something of ourselves with those around us. So may we open ourselves to others and find others opening themselves to us. Amen.