Much has been said of the public health crisis of Covid-19. We hear stories about it every day. But there has been another, under-reported and under-appreciated, crisis evolving during this time: a loneliness crisis.
A few weeks ago a pastor friend of mine from another county told me that the CEO of a nursing home community where he lives shared with him that the biggest problem they are dealing with in their nursing homes right now is not Covid-19, but the number of people dying from loneliness.
While the loneliness crisis may be especially chronic with our senior population, it certainly isn’t confined to them. Many have suffered emotional distress and depression. For some, the call to “stay home and stay healthy” has been a life-saving prescription. But for others it was as another kind of death sentence suffered from emotional and psychological wounds of isolation.
John 1:1-14 tells us of the greatest gift God gave mankind, the gift from which every other gift He gave would come: The eternal God stepped out of glory, onto earth, and into human flesh. John captures this miracle by contrasting these two words: Word and Flesh. Both words refer to Christ’s identity; the first in eternity and second in this world.
By referring to Jesus as the Word John is identifying His divine nature. He spells out what this means in the first three verses: He existed eternally; He existed eternally with God; He existed eternally as God; and from eternity He is the one through whom God created everything!
But in verse 14 John affirms that this eternal Word “became flesh.” In other words, that means that He became a man with real flesh and bone as you and I have. But there is more. Verse 14 also tells us the first reason why He took on flesh: “To dwell among us.” Don’t allow yourself to complicate the simple meaning of this. It means He came to be with us, and in the most practical way we could understand. “Although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7).
For all the reasons why we may say Jesus came to earth—to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, feed the hungry, die for the sins of the world—all of these things are the outflow of another most important reason why God came to earth in Christ, and in the way He did: to let us know we are not alone! The miracle of this being that in Christ’s humanity we are given a better understanding of the nearness of God, “The Word became flesh, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father…” (Verse 14)
As we now emerge from our caves, do not be surprised if this reentry into society does not automatically solve the loneliness problem which has festered in months of isolation for some. For now when people come out from the darkness, with eyes squinting in the light of this new world that does not much resemble the world they had known, who will they find waiting for them?
Herein lies what I believe to be one of our most pressing needs for the church to meet, not just for each other, but for our communities: extending the love of Christ with the ministry of presence. This involves being thoughtful and intentional in engaging the people around us with flesh and bone; with empathy and compassion; with time and space. You may not think so at first, but when we do this we open the door for the glory of God to be manifest to them in us.
When we love people with our presence, we are giving them the gift of God’s loving presence.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I live my life before others in such a way that they will see and experience you near.