Headlines: The Loss of True Connection in Our Society

Published in The Mustard Seed Sentinel, 4/24/21~

[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)

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.

That was then. This is now.

A teenage girl stands on her back porch breaking glass jars and cutting her own skin. Trying to cut her way “through the hurt down to the core of things.” Trying to end the pain of her heart.

A man sits alone in a cold cell, isolated from those he loves, those who love him.

Ann Voskamp was the girl on the porch suffering the death of her younger sister, which devastated their family.

She was traumatized. Trauma comes different ways.

Natan Sharansky was a man in a cell. He was a Jew in the Soviet Union, a refusenik, a prisoner of the KGB. His jailers hoped to cultivate Stockholm syndrome within him. That happens when a victim connects with his captors. Trust grows. Secrets spill. Injustice finds new prey.

Voskamp had no one to trust with the pain within her. Sharansky fought to stay connected to those he loved and trusted, if only in his heart and mind. He worked hard not to trust the untrustworthy KGB.

There’s an odd irony in saying that Voskamp and Sharansky are not alone.

In 1985, ten percent of Americans were completely alone in their lives–no confidants, no one to count on. By 2009, that number had grown to 25 percent. Stephen Ilardi calls this nation “perilously isolated.” Isolation numbers continued to grow until COVID only made isolation worse.

And it’s not a problem confined to America. In 2014, an EU survey deemed Britain “the loneliness capital of Europe.” And it isn’t a problem just for those who live alone.

Rebecca Harris: “So why are we getting lonelier? Changes in modern society are . . . the cause.

We live in nuclear family units, often living large distances away from our extended family and friends, and our growing reliance on social technology rather than face-to-face interaction is thought to be making us feel more isolated. It means we feel less connected to others and our relationships are becoming more superficial and less rewarding.”

HEADlines at Mustard Seed Sentinel

More superficial. Less rewarding. Virtual reality gives us virtual connections and produces virtual lives. A virtual life does not contain relationships that can heal our hurts.

We are less real on social media. But sometimes we are too real. We say things to our screens we would never say to someone’s face.

The venom we exuded in the recent election makes us unapproachable to someone smarting from defeat.

If we won, we don’t care. It’s our turn. We build walls against the pain of others. We prove ourselves unworthy of their trust.

If we lost, bitterness can grow inside us. And with it, we build a wall to keep others out. But the wall keeps hurt inside, and we look for ways to let it out.

Voskamp: “Who doesn’t know what it’s like to smile thinly and say you’re fine when you’re not, when you’re almost faint with pain?”

Today, loneliness is an American epidemic. Cigna released a study 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, the farming community, 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?

In cultivating plants, we cultivate purpose.

And we can cultivate relationships. A local faith-based organization developed a program where volunteers talk with nursing home residents once or twice a week. The caregivers found that their residents were happier. I would not be surprised to find that the volunteers were too.

For investing in others cultivates our souls.

When we give ourselves, we find meaning and purpose—elements we lost when we changed our way of living.

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 and giving, 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: Jilbert Ebrahimi and Barbara Zandoval in Unsplash.com

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Secrecy in the Night

“[N]ine old nanas” is what Ann Voskamp calls them. They kept their secret for thirty years. They conspired and sneaked out to do their “drive-bys” in the night–hoping no one else would ever know.

They carved money from their budgets and hid it from their husbands–almost $400 every month.

After all that time, one of their husbands finally confronted them. What in the world were they doing? What are all the strange transactions in the bank statement? Extra mileage on the car? Where is she going?

Imagine, thirty years of secrets. One husband wonders what’s going on–what’s been going on. He thinks the worst. Is she being unfaithful?

No. His wife and the rest of the nine nanas were thoroughly faithful. Their nighttime adventures were acts of ministry in secrecy.

They met needs. Sometimes for people they knew. Sometimes for complete strangers. They relished the joy of blessing others.–all sorts of ways.

Once the nanas got started, they worked at listening and looking for ways to give–for people with a need they could fill.

Voskamp: “They knew we’re not here to make an impression. We’re here to make a difference.”

It’s the kind of difference people made for me and mine when we were in need. Food on the front porch–I didn’t count how many times. And once–a blue, silk dress for me. A treasure I could not afford had I pilfered my own pennies for years.

Were the husbands angry when they found out about the Nanas’ capers? Yes. They were mad.

“[They w]anted in on the game,” Voskamp tells us. “They wanted in on writing down names and anonymously paying utility bills, delivering pound cakes and pressing beauty into this world.”

Those ladies married well.

And so the conspiracy of blessing others grew.

Perhaps in our day, it’s ill-advised to sneak out in the middle of the night and set off a security system trying to bless someone with a pound cake or the funds for an overdue bill.

But blessing others is always in fashion. And like the nanas, you and I can be creative and secretive about our giving.

We can look and listen and be ready to fill a need.

Day or night.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”