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There was an interesting article in the LA Times about a loneliness crisis on University campuses. It was written by Varun Soni who is Dean of Religious Life at USC.
He writes, "When I arrived at USC 11 years ago as Dean of Religious Life, my pastoral conversations with students mostly focused on their quests for meaning and purpose. They were striving to translate values into action, cultivate joy and gratitude, live extraordinary lives."
"But over the last several years, these conversations have taken a devastating turn. Whereas students used to ask “How should I live?” they are now more likely to ask “Why should I live?” Where they used to talk about hope and meaning; now they grapple with hopelessness and meaninglessness. Every year, it seems, I encounter more stress, anxiety, and depression, and more students in crisis on campus."
This crisis is not limited to college campuses. It is all around us.
Thankfully in the Christian faith, gospel mission has been mercifully woven into our life by Jesus’ example and command. As we see in John 20, two of the gifts Jesus came back from the grave to give us were:
1) A sense of mission in the world
2) The power to do the mission
“Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit”
This is a great promise from Jesus of what he will transform us into: Spirit-empowered sent-ones moving out into a lonely world to spread the love of God.
Whether we find ourselves at cafeteria tables, or in conference rooms, standing over BBQ grills, or sitting in lawn chairs, all of us are sent out in faith, to befriend the people he puts in our path and to build bridges of love.
Summer makes this task both easier and harder.
It is easier because the weather is so beautiful and schedules are more relaxed.
It is harder because traveling out of town is at an all-time high.
Just when your evenings become free, the person you want to connect with takes off on vacation. And chances are, they will return the day after you leave on yours.
Nevertheless we don’t give up. We have the promise of 1 Corinthians 15 to remind us “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Getting together and sharing life with our friends and colleagues is a practical way we can live out the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
As I was considering these verses I found this dense quote about eternity and the reality of heaven and hell from C.S. Lewis. These words are from his 1942 Oxford talk titled “The Weight of Glory”
His words inspire us to keep investing in relationships with others and to overcome the loneliness crisis.
“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit –immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously–no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner–no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”