Loneliness is the first and the last problem. It’s the first problem because the first thing God declared “not good” according to the book of Genesis was loneliness. It’s the last because after every other problem has been solved, after the homeless man fills his belly and all the diseases have been cured, loneliness remains.
But here’s the thing: in the absence of belief in God, Western culture believes that the only solution to loneliness is romance. Nearly all movies, pop songs, magazines, advertisements, and dating apps beat us over the head with the constant refrain: without romance, your life is not worth living. You won’t be happy. You won’t find fulfilment. You won’t enjoy your life unless you are in a romantic relationship.
Romance has become the saviour, the idol of our culture. And what Christianity teaches about Jesus, the culture believes about romance.
The problem is that the Church can easily become influenced by our culture’s idolatry of romance. I know this because I’ve been influenced this way too. I write as an oldest child, still single, with three younger siblings, who are all married. Yeah. I’ve sometimes struggled with feeling like a misfit, like I’m incomplete without a life partner. There have been times in my life when I’ve even wondered if I could ever be happy unless I found a lasting romantic relationship. For a long time it never occurred to me that I should question this feeling and ask myself whether it was a godly one. I just went along with culture because that was what my culture told me: romance will solve my loneliness problem.
Yet when I looked deeper into the Bible and into Christian History, I discovered that singleness was counted as a blessing, even a preference. This seemed alien to me. The surrounding secular culture had so much power over my imaginations, feeding me images of what true happiness and fulfilment look like, that I started to believe it. Sometimes the Church doesn’t fight hard enough against the currents and trends of our time, unwittingly adopting its values.
The truth is that romance, relationships, flings… they cannot satisfy us. It might be able quench our loneliness for a time, but it will always leave us emptier than we were before, it will always leave us longing for something more lasting.
So what is the Christian way to combat loneliness? It should come as no surprise that first thing we must do is place God in the centre of our lives. When God is displaced from the centre, relationships either fall apart or become dysfunctional, and the joy we get from them dissipates.
The second thing we must do is to prioritize community living. We are made to be together — from very early on Christians have formed tight-knit communities where each member prioritizes the needs and desires of the others and commits to sharing life together.
Perhaps one way the Church today can prevent romance from taking more than its rightful place in our lives, is to form intimate and self-sacrificial communities.
Photo by (Flickr CC) Kurt Bauschardt