Come Receive the Light National Orthodox Christian Radio Program

Dangerously Alone

A recent article published in the American Sociological Review reported on a study entitled “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades.” This study reported a “remarkable drop” in the number of close friends in whom people confide.

The study showed that in 2004 the average American had just two close friends, and the number of people reporting no close friends at all jumped from 10% in 1985 to 25% in 2004. We live in a society where a sense of isolation is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

While there are many sociological, emotional, and even physical consequences of this increasing loneliness, I am equally concerned about the spiritual consequences for all these lonely people. I don’t believe that the growth of isolation in our society is unrelated to the surge in pornography use, casual “throw-away” relationships, and depression.

We simply were not meant to be alone.

That is why the Church consistently teaches the value of community. All too often, we Americans view our faith as just another “entertainment” choice. Consequently, we abandon the God-given remedy for the sense of aloneness many of us suffer on a daily basis.

You might have a “close-knit” immediate family. That is a very good thing! But what about the wider community? As our society normalizes “on-line” relationships in chat rooms and MySpace, we increasingly live a “virtual” existence with diminishing human contact. This aloneness feeds a flight from reality and makes it increasingly harder for people to develop close friendships that offer both an outlet for our struggles and a sense of accountability.

Here are three spiritual poverties produced by this sickness of isolation:

First, A Poverty of Perspective. Living an isolated life cuts you off from the balancing effects of hearing viewpoints other than your own. One of the great values of our Orthodox faith is that is provides a very real and tangible connection to the faithful Christians who have gone before us. We have access to the wisdom of that “great cloud of witnesses” that helps us keep a healthy perspective about our struggles, and provides us wonderful role models of faithfulness that we can draw strength from when life just gets a bit overwhelming. There is nothing like the voices of friends to encourage us when we face life’s hard times.

Second, A Poverty of Purpose. This sickness of isolation weakens our resolve to live honorable lives. Evidence of this can be seen in the steadily growing acceptance of pornographic web sites and materials in America. Internet pornography is already a $4 billion a year business. Easy access to porn, coupled with a sense of isolation from friends and family, is a recipe for spiritual catastrophe. When you feel cut off from close friends, you feel less of an obligation and purpose to guard the community from the baser desires of fallen mankind. Alone, you do what you desire; in community you cannot forget how your personal behavior affects those around you. When you are alone, you can be more willing to accept the degrading illusion of intimacy without responsibility.

Finally, A Poverty of Person. Eventually, this disconnectedness begins to erode the lonely person’s own identity. Our Orthodox faith teaches us that we can truly only know our real selves “in the face of another.” St. James says it best when he describes a man looking in a mirror, who “observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” (James 1:24) Alone, we either fall into the trap of being too harsh with ourselves, or letting ourselves off the hook too easy. In Community we keep a vision of our true selves in the clarity of all the other faces that surround us. We were created in the image of the eternally communing Holy Trinity. When we are isolated, we risk spiritual poverty by denying who we were made to be.

The cure begins when I have the courage to dare to risk revealing myself to Another. When I faithfully enter into relationship with Christ, knowing He will never reject me, I can then open myself to the challenge and the joy of building lasting relationships with His precious people. The first step is daring to trust that God truly loves me and wants me for Himself.

This week I speak with three men on the cutting edge of technology. Theo Nicolakis, Rick Schatz, and Jack Samad are all involved with harnessing the power of the Internet to serve the mission of the Church, and they join us to talk about how to protect yourself and your family from mobile pornography. Don’t miss this Come Receive The Light.

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