Finding Community: Finding Ourselves

“[T]here were times, . . . mainly during the . . . harvest, when we would all be together. The men would go early to have the benefit of the cool of the morning. The women would finish their housework and then gather, sometimes bringing dishes already cooked, to lay on a big feed at dinnertime; and then after the dishes were done, they would go out to help in the field or the barn for the rest of the day. . . . This was our membership.” (Hannah Coulter 92)
Through most of America’s history, people grew up in small towns. They knew each other and helped each other. Most people were part of a community.
Modern people have accused these forebears of sexual division, relegating women to the kitchen. But women worked in the fields too. Men and women grew food and other crops. Often the division of labor meant he worked harder than she did growing the food. And she worked harder than he did to bring to put it on the table. Children grew up learning a good measure of hard work.
It wasn’t about who did what work. It was about making sure the work got done.  Everyone had a part to play, a contribution to make, a purpose to serve.
People worked hard, some just to survive–others, to thrive. They grew old, perhaps at a faster rate than we do. They were tired. But they were not lonely.
Today, loneliness is an American epidemic. Cigna released a study this week indicating that most Americans are lonely. We might expect that among the elderly–especially those who live alone–but that isn’t the case. In fact, older people have done the best job of keeping themselves from being isolated.
The loneliest among us are the young.
Cigna says the problem is bigger than social isolation. Cigna is an insurance company. Loneliness is a health problem–as harmful as smoking–making some more prone to heart disease. Loneliness is costly to insurance companies and costly to our society.
And social loss happens in more than dollars. Lonely people are more prone to substance abuse. Loneliness has become a social crisis.
Author of Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry sums up our problem this way: “We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.”
An exodus back to the farming life doesn’t seem reasonable. Much of the available farmland has been consolidated or subdivided. But there are things we can do.
Many of these things came more easily to farm folks. Working together, eating together. We can do those things too. But we have to be more intentional than they had to be.
We can grow some of our own food. Some of us already grow tomatoes–even in pots–even in apartments. What better way to show the young that food doesn’t originate in a store? What better way to explain the concept of cultivation?
We cultivate plants. We cultivate purpose. We cultivate our souls.
When we as a society left the farm for the town or the suburbs, we thought we were moving to a better place, an easier life. Ease has shown itself to be a false promise for peace in our hearts.
With purpose, we find that peace. And that is something we can pass along.
“It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18
Photo Credit: Pixabay

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18 Replies to “Finding Community: Finding Ourselves”

  1. Since I write historical fiction of the era of which you speak, I’ve thought about this a lot. Thank you for broaching this social failure of modern America. Modern solutions seem to be dedicated social involvement in our churches. And for the unchurched, social clubs and organizations can fill that gap. But since it’s not interwoven naturally into our lives, it requires reaching out and acting. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for a great comment, Melinda. When I was young, my family ate dinner together every night. My parents and we kids talked about college protests, capital punishment, the Vietnam War, and Watergate. I think my parents were just discussing what interested them.
      When my kids were young, I was intentional about our dinner table conversations. That’s the difference. What came as a matter of course to many in previous generations we need to work at with intention. Thanks again for reading and commenting. God bless!

  2. Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for this very crucial reminder of the crisis of loneliness in our culture. I love what you said here about the past roles of men and women: “It wasn’t about who did what work. It was about making sure the work got done.” I agree!
    I spend my days mostly alone as a stay-at-home mother primarily, although I blog and teach on apologetics. Most days, it’s pretty quiet. The neighborhoods are empty, the laughter of children playing in their yards outside is non-existent. Few stay home much these days, as we seem to think that “busy is better,” and tend to run our children from one extra curricular event to another. Yet statistics are proving busy is not necessarily better. We run from one thing to the next, but if we don’t connect heart-to-heart with others in a community, then our souls become parched from the lack of real relationships.
    I sometimes dream of the days when I was growing up, back in the 60s and 70s, when there were more stay-at-home moms who connected on their streets. I remember playing with kids in my backyard and seeing the moms share extra meals they’ve prepared, or an extra cookie or two for the neighborhood kids. That just doesn’t happen anymore, at least not where I’ve lived.
    I doubt it will change any time soon, but I hope people slow down their lives and begin to rethink what it means to connect in community relationships again. Loneliness is terrible.
    Bless you! Lisa Q

    1. Absolutely, Lisa. Kids have such a small amount of free time anymore. And so many schools don’t even give them recess. They have no unstructured time to fill on their own–so they don’t know how to fill time with anything meaningful.
      Thanks for reading and commenting! God bless!

  3. I often wish we could go back and live a much smaller life. I will see living in Denver, we witness a lot of loneliness. Thanks for these thoughts.

  4. Loneliness is very real to some. God has been working on me to start rebuilding my community of friends. Social media makes me feel close to friends who no longer live in a reasonable driving distance to meet for dinner or coffee. Perhaps God did that intentionally … to meet other people who have a purpose in my life. And I have a purpose in theirs.

  5. Yes! Wonderful, insightful post. My grandparents spoke of the community based life in which they grew up. Everyone contributed to the work and felt a sense of belonging and togetherness. It seems we have let the pendulum swing so far that we’ve lost the good and wholesome parts of our pedigree. Important things such as community have fallen from our family trees. Loneliness is in a sense a real epidemic. And now more than ever with social media and no intentional ways to be face-to-face, we are a lonely society even with other people in the house or room or across the table. Loved this, Nancy.

  6. The community is the key to grow with the family of professionals. In an online world, loneliness is the death and community is the only thing that can save you. Thanks for sharing the valuable thoughts.

  7. Dear Nancy!
    I could relate to this because I’m grown up in a little place out on the countryside. I see it the same way you do; it was about getting the work done.
    God bless!
    Edna Davidsen

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