Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tolerance of a Deeper Sort

As I grew up, I learned that respect comes in different forms. I'm supposed to respect my elders (age has its privileges; we assume the older are also wiser). I'm supposed to respect the American flag (don't let it touch the ground). I'm supposed to respect the wilderness (leave it as if it were untouched).

One of my challenges -- and perhaps not only mine -- is that I have a hard time separating respect from tolerance. In our current age of deep disagreement, we regularly witness some new outrage de jour, some new idea or person whom we're supposed to name, shame, and obliterate when not in line with the cultural orthodoxy.

It seems that more often than not, those who demand we join the militant march for social justice on whatever fashionable issue it is we ought to be angry about and fighting for (e.g., the trending hashtags on Twitter) are the very ones who self-describe as tolerant. Yet in practice, they seem to be the most intolerant, making room only for people who share their exact view.

Yet tolerance has often meant a kind of respect for the views of others. Sometimes it takes the form of "to each his/her own" or "you do you" or "live and let live." But this kind of respect strikes me as only really being possible when we're talking about things that don't matter much. It's not too difficult for me to respect or tolerate others whose views or convictions I don't find all that relevant, interesting, or even offensive. For me, something like veganism isn't really a big deal. If you're like me, perhaps you and I will pat ourselves on the back for being tolerant and respectful of vegans. But for some vegans, it's a put-my-stake-in-the-ground issue. So we might imagine, there are vegans who tolerate and respect, and militant vegans who don't.

Yet, if tolerance and respect are really only the sorts of attitudes we have for things that don't matter much, I'm not sure we're really talking about tolerance or respect at all.

It's with this in mind that I'm deeply appreciative of John Inazu's understanding of tolerance. Inazu is a professor of law at Washington University, and his recent book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference is one I highly recommend. He describes tolerance as the ability to live with others whom we might think are reprehensible, whose views are deplorable, and with whom we vehemently disagree.

Tolerance of this sort is only possible because of the shared humanity we have with one another. That is, if you claim the right to hold to certain convictions that you consider sacred and inviolable, then out of respect for the shared humanity of all others, you must allow the same kind of space for someone to utterly hate, despise, and reject the things you believe are most important. To the extent that we do not do this, we dehumanize the other, failing both at respect and tolerance.

As Inazu describes it, tolerance that aims to foster a kind of co-existence among those who are deeply different is only possible on the basis of a certain kind of respect: one which sees humans as being equal in a fundamental way.

Now, this may sound very pie-in-the-sky, like a view through rose-colored glasses, especially in our present age of outrage in which we tend to live in echo chambers that merely serve to support our own personal perspective on things, encouraging us to believe that we are unquestionably right, and that those who disagree with us are just plain wrong (or bad or evil, etc.).

From my angle, there's really only one way that Inazu's account can work: we have to see one another as made in the image of God. Such a perspective demands from us a certain kind of treatment of others-otherwise, to think less of them on the basis of disagreement would amount to offending God Himself.

So I find it very timely that a wise friend recently pointed something out to me: Jesus never let an issue or behavior stand in the way of a relationship. That is, Jesus treated people with dignity even when He disagreed with them. That's respect of the deepest and most genuine sort. Jesus sees people for who they really are. That's risky and vulnerable, to be sure. But it seems to me that in our age of outrage, that's what most of us really want: to be taken seriously, to be heard, and for our views to be considered rather than immediately dismissed. When that happens, we feel validated, humanized -- as if our existence and our thoughts matter. That's respect.

I think Inazu's vision is something our culture desperately needs. I'm taking Jesus as my model in trying to achieve it in my small corner of the world. I invite you to as well.

Written by Chad Lakies

You can let us know what you think about this by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Leadership

A lot of what Christianity has to say about leadership can be summed up pretty well in one story about Jesus with His followers: "A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And He said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the One who serves'" (Luke 22:24-27).

This might not sound as revolutionary as it really is. After all, there are 20 pages of books on Amazon on the topic of "servant leadership." It's become a buzzword in management training.

Real Service?

And yet ... how many cases do you know of leaders who really serve others? I'm not talking about the folks who do photo ops at a soup kitchen, or use a golden shovel to turn the first scoop of earth at a groundbreaking ceremony. Real servant leadership is costly. It means getting involved in the unpleasant side of other people's lives. And really, who wants to do that? It's not like people are exactly panting to pick up other people's trash, or wipe incontinent people's bottoms.

And yet, when leaders actually do serve, amazing things can happen. I remember a small immigrant church that had a real problem with getting people to work together. Everybody was so concerned about his or her own prestige that nobody would lift a finger to do the necessary but lowly tasks that make a community run smoothly. Everyone wanted to be a leader; nobody wanted to be a servant.

Things went on this way until the pastor of the church and another leader got a great idea. Between the two of them, they were the highest-status people in the church, and everyone looked up to them. So the next time there was a Christmas party, and everyone was finishing up eating, they each grabbed a rolling trash can and took it around the tables, picking up people's dirty paper plates and throwing them away. You should have seen the looks on people's faces as their leaders cleared away trash with their own hands.

But that had a great result. In the next few weeks, people began pitching in on all sorts of tasks. Some started cooking and cleaning; some offered rides to other people without cars; some helped direct parking in a cold, muddy field. People stopped worrying about their own status and started caring for others. That's the power of real servant leadership. And it's a tiny example of the sort of leadership Jesus calls all who follow Him to exercise.

But there are other things Christianity has to say to anyone who wants to be a good leader. If a good leader is there to serve, then questions come up that demand answers:

Where exactly am I leading these people to?

Is it a good place?

Is it the place we ought to be going?

How will we know when we get there?

This seems like a pretty obvious set of questions, but you'd be amazed by the number of people who set out to lead without having any clear idea what they're leading people to. I was once part of an inter-ethnic coalition who spent their first year or more arguing about their reason for existing. They all believed the coalition ought to exist, but they all had totally different ideas what it ought to do. And of course, if you don't know what you're supposed to be doing or where you're heading, you're not going to be happy with where you eventually end up.

The biblical leader Moses was a leader who knew exactly where he was going with his people, an entire nation of ex-slaves who had just become free. They needed a new land, a renewed faith, and a new cultural pattern to live by. Though the Israelites drove him crazy on a regular basis, he kept on toward the goal: Canaan, the Promised Land.

Why exactly am I leading, anyway?

Is it because I really care about these people and what we're trying to get done?

Is it an ego trip for me?

Unfortunately, Western cultures in particular give leadership jobs a lot of status—so much so that people who don't know how to lead, and don't particularly want to lead, still try to get into those positions just so they can enjoy the status. But of course that ends in a mess for everybody involved. We need to work on getting the right people into leadership—those who are gifted with wisdom, patience, caring, and a talent for working with people.

David was another biblical leader, a king who spent most of his life at war. He was known for taking care of his soldiers. He saw to it that they had what they needed—food, rest, a place for their families to be safe—and he himself went out with his forces to lead them. They knew they mattered to him. In fact, the one time he didn't go out with his forces, David wound up in a major leadership mess involving adultery, murder, and the betrayal of a fellow soldier. He proved this principle of good leadership both ways—by the times he kept it, and by the one time he spectacularly broke it, and everyone suffered the consequences.

When the people I'm leading drive me crazy, what then?

Do I give it up as a bad job?

Do I see how I might amend the situation and turn it into something good for those involved?

And if so, where am I going to find the wisdom and the strength to make that happen?

Every leader faces moments of resistance from those led—times when the people drive him or her nuts. Moses certainly did. His reaction was not to quit, however. Instead, he did a lot of yelling and metaphorical hair-pulling, and then he went to talk with God about the problem. He found wisdom as he prayed and listened to what God had to say. This gave him the strength to carry on as leader for 40 years, even though the people were making just about every mistake they could think of to make.

What about you, in your leadership? Where do you find strength, wisdom, and the patience to carry on? Could you possibly find it in the same place? Something to consider, maybe.

Written by the THRED Team

You can let us know what you think about this by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Talking Bias

Understanding implicit bias can be an extremely difficult task for most people. It requires a degree of self-awareness and a willingness to admit that, sometimes, many of our daily interactions with other people are shaded by prejudice, even when we mean well. Nobody wants to own up to assuming that a person is less intelligent because of their hair color, or that they're less capable because of their age, or that they're more dangerous because of their skin color.

But, the reality is that we all have our own biases that need to be acknowledged, unpacked, and unlearned.

As a young(ish) black male, I've come face-to-face with race-based bias more often than I could even attempt to quantify. It's not uncommon for interactions fueled by biases to result in viral videos and attention-grabbing headlines. It's more common, however, for them to be felt in the tiny, seemingly harmless, micro-aggressions that members of minority groups encounter throughout everyday life.

No person of color is a stranger to moments like having your name intentionally mispronounced because it's slightly less common than "John." (Seriously, if you can pronounce Polish last names where "-dzki" is a common suffix, you can figure out "Jamel" without making a show of it.) Encountering bias is a part of life for many of us, and navigating it eventually becomes second nature.

Sifting my thoughts on this topic caused me to look at my own prejudices. What I found was that, in a strange way, being aware of how much of a role implicit bias and micro-aggressions play in my day-to-day interactions has led to me forming biases of my own as a bit of a defense mechanism.

Simply put, I assign biases to certain groups of people before I even give them a chance to exhibit them. When I see a police officer, I expect them to single me out and treat me unfairly. When I speak to "baby boomers," I expect my life experiences to be minimized and written off as an unmotivated millennial. When I meet a vegan, I expect them to preach on the health benefits of removing delicious fast-food double cheeseburgers from my diet.

So what can we do about it?

While it's probably impossible to rid yourself of all biases, what we can do is limit the amount of control they have over our actions. In order to accomplish this, we must acknowledge our prejudices and then work to make sure our interactions are not governed by them.

As difficult as it may be to admit it, this blog might be about you. Do you show favoritism or prejudice based on snap judgments of people you've just met? Do you harbor damaging opinions about other people based on insufficient data and assumptions you've adopted along the way? I've taken a long look in the mirror and named some of my biases.

Can you name some of yours?

Written by Justin Fantroy

Prejudice is difficult to overcome, especially if we don't see it in ourselves. What are yours?

You can let us know what you think about this by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Jesus and Battle Scars

Years ago, when I was a young, naïve Christian teenager, I found myself in a lengthy discussion about faith with a non-Christian classmate. This particular classmate, who eventually became a very good friend, asked a lot of challenging questions about God, Jesus, and the Christian faith. By the end of the conversation, I came to the conclusion that he just thought too much to believe in the Christian faith.

Now the adult me asks, "Really? He thought too much?"

When I take an honest look at the Christian faith, the faith into which I was born and the faith into which I am now raising my children, there is an understanding that yes, it is a religious faith that takes a tremendous amount of belief. After all, to be a Christian is to believe that the historical man Jesus, a man revered by individuals from many different religious faiths, was not just a real man who lived and breathed and walked on earth, but God Himself.

For some, just believing that God exists is a stretch, and I get that—I really do. I also get how hard it is to add to that belief by saying that a historical figure is God in human form. After all, can't Christians just be happy believing Jesus was a good, wise man who said good things and taught us how to love each other and live our best possible life?

No.

Because I know a lot of good people.

I know a lot of wise people.

I know a lot of smart people.

And they may be really good people to know and have as friends, but I believe we humans need so much more.

After years of friendships and relationships with people of different faiths, I have matured in my understanding that thinking too much isn't the problem. The problem is in starting with the wrong questions and sometimes in seeking the wrong answers. As a teenager, I didn't know how to answer the questions I was asked because for the first time, I needed to challenge my own beliefs and search for hard answers.

For an individual of any faith, it is a scary odyssey because one never knows where they will end up. As one who loves reading almost anything and who is hungry for knowledge, it is also a daunting task. It is a task that has taken me through the Bible, Christian writers of different denominations, and non-Christian writers who challenge my view of the world, forcing me to question and defend beliefs I have accepted as true for my entire life. And 20 years later I'm back where I started, my feet firmly planted in the Christian faith, but this time with battle scars affirming my belief in Jesus Christ as God.

I know some people look at Christians as a group of gullible simpletons willing to believe in fairy tales, but some of the smartest, most well-read people I know are Christians, and yes, they believe that Jesus is God. Yes, they believe the Bible. And yes, they also believe in science and history.

Many of my fellow Christians don't believe in Jesus' divinity because they are willing to ignore everything else that they know and everything else that they have read. They believe it because to not believe it is to deny the power of God and the importance of God coming down to earth to save a world full of lost people.

Jesus left the glory of heaven to become a man. He experienced the physical, emotional, and mental pains of humanity before He sacrificed Himself on a cross. I can experience the struggles of my own life and look at Jesus and know that He gets it. I don't just have His sympathy; I have His empathy.

Jesus didn't just show us how to live and love, He showed us just how broken we are. He hung out with "sinners" because they were the ones most aware of their brokenness. Unlike the church leaders of the day, they were not looking for a political savior and affirmation that they were doing the right thing; they longed for Someone who would rescue them from themselves. And Jesus understood that brokenness because He also suffered intense emotional and physical pain. He listened to the pain of those around Him, healing the bodies and souls of those who reached out to Him for help.

But all of that is only significant if Jesus is God. All of that only matters if Jesus is something greater than my humanity. And all of that only matters for me—if I believe it.

Written by Sarah Styf

You can let us know what you think about this by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Purpose

What is the point of all this? Why am I here?

This aspect of our humanity separates us from all other creatures. The answer to this deep, soul-searching quest is personal. No individual's journey is the same when they seek to work through their own reality and circumstances.

The answer, like most things in life, isn't simple or one-dimensional. We will always encounter another layer or level as we answer the complicated question, "Why am I here?"

In attempting to answer that question, Christians believe God holds not only a purpose for individuals, but an overarching purpose for humankind.

Created for Divine Relationship

Human beings have a profound need to be seen. To feel worthy and loved. We crave relationships. God craves relationships, too. Understanding God's eagerness for a relationship with humanity brings peace to a Christian's restless heart.

The first layer in understanding a Christian's view on purpose is knowing the creation story. The first pages of the Bible provide a detailed account of how God designed the earth and everything in it. Within that story, you will find a holy God—who holds all power and knowledge-and desires a relationship with His created people (see Genesis 1:1-2; 1 Samuel 12:22).

Because God wants us here, we can view our existence—all its joy and suffering—through a lens of purpose.

God spoke every created thing, living and nonliving, into existence ... except humans. To create humans, He formed them from the ground. He brought them to life by breathing His own breath into them. He gave them responsibility—a job—to tend the land. God gave humans free will and the freedom to choose a relationship with their Creator (see Genesis 1:26-30).

Without choice, a man-to-God relationship would be based in control, manipulation, mistrust, or fear. God's desire for humans to choose Him indicates He places value on those humans. In other words, He wants them to want Him. He created mankind with a purpose in mind, the highest of which is friendship with Him (see Genesis 2:9; Genesis 3:8).

What is MY purpose?

Why am I here? What should I do with my life?

Those questions can paralyze people. The questions seem so large, so intimidating, they blind us to the simplest, most obvious manifestations of purpose in our lives.

Accepting where you are and what you have is one step toward discovering your purpose. That may sound trivial, but it is revolutionary. Great truth rests in tackling our mundane, daily tasks. It involves accepting the gift of each moment, knowing we might not be given another, and making the most of it.

Humans are not only unique from the rest of creation—they are unique from each other. Each human body contains a distinctive combination of DNA. An individual's genetics, background and experiences blend together, resulting in a set of skills, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and insights that do not match the set of any other individual. And that set is necessary for humankind. If one person doesn't carry out their purpose, their role will go either unfulfilled, or unfulfilled in the unique way they could do it.

How do you find the life purposes that are unique to you? There is no single answer, but God gives us a plethora of clues:

 Roles/Stations: Any role we fill in which we're responsible to someone or for something, and where our role doesn't by its nature require disobeying God, this is a calling from God. It's not about what we're responsible to do for God, but what God is doing through us.

 Gifts/Talents: God gives all of us different gifts—both "spiritual" gifts for building up God's church and kingdom, and "created" gifts for contributing to the temporal world. Our gifts and talents give us a sense of how God wants us to help others.

 God gives us all manner of resources in different proportions—material resources, financial resources, influence, time, knowledge, etc. He wants us to be generous with our resources, whatever form they may take (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-11).

 Passions/Desires: This one is trickier because passions and desires can come from God, or from the evil inside us, or they can come from a combination of sources, making it difficult to determine the good. But it is a misconception that Christians are supposed to let all of their desires die. Desire can be corrupt, but it can also be very good. God is very interested in our desires: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4). He also knows they have tremendous power to motivate us—no doubt he built us with desires so they would do just that.

 Opportunities: We believe God continues to be intimately involved in the details of how every earthly circumstance happens and turns out (see Romans 8:28; Luke 12:6-7). If God gives you an opportunity to do something good, it was on purpose.

 Needs: Compassion is feeling someone else's distress at a gut-level and thereby being compelled to act. The Holy Spirit nurtures compassion inside people of Christian faith. This word describes much of Jesus' action toward us. He gives us compassion, so we respond to needs as well. In a sense, a human need is a call from God.

Cohesive Independence

Talk of individuality raises the matter of independence. As Christians, we are to take care of ourselves and bear individual responsibility for our actions. We are to develop our skills and talents.

However, bloated individuality results in selfishness, the philosophy that "me" comes before "we." Christians believe that if our lives become exclusively about us—my comfort, my longings, my love, my truth—then we have stepped outside of God's original plan. Instead of functioning as one human race, we become isolated and alone. We can also lose our sense of purpose.

In God's plan, the question "What do I want to do with my life?" becomes "How can I use my unique skill and background to help others in this situation?"

Using the human body as an example once again, when one member of the body falls ill, other members produce and deliver white blood cells to bring the body back to wholeness. When one member does not function to benefit the body, the whole body grows weaker.

When we consider that our individual purpose should also edify life and humanity, our trajectory is altered.

How Suffering Can Enhance Purpose

Living with purpose has its challenges. What happens when life doesn't unfold as we anticipate or plan? When tragedy or hurt interrupts progress? When cancer steals dreams? When loved ones die? When an accident takes or dramatically hinders our physical abilities?

Sometimes, it's more acute—such as when others appear to have joy and life, while we dwell in a dark haze of depression or anxiety.

When it comes to suffering, Christians find comfort that Jesus—God—knows our pain and factors it into the bigger picture. We do not view ourselves as alone when we suffer. Our suffering is evidence of why we claim to need a Savior in the first place. It becomes a point of reference rather than a blemish. Because Christians believe God uses our struggles as a training ground to cement our purpose, it helps provide a "why" as we pursue the "how" (see Hebrews 2:9-10; 2:18; 5:8; John 16:33).

All great stories of redemption, reconciliation, or healing include deep scars. Christians do not desire struggle, but our trust in God helps us endure it.

The Big Picture

Viewing life through lenses of love and hope gives Christians a sense of purpose. That purpose is rooted in a relationship with God and built on our inherent value to Him. That awareness sets us free to pursue individuality based on service to others. We live our lives as members of a larger body, seeking to contribute to the greater good, even amid life's struggles.

Written by Team THRED

You can let us know what you think about this by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

I'm a Pastor, and I Need Counseling

I walked in and there she was. A college student from the church I serve. I couldn't turn around. I couldn't un-commit. I could have lied about why I was there, but that's not ethical (right?). I was caught red-handed—seeing my professional counselor.

For the last decade or so, I've seen a professional counselor off-and-on. Sometimes, it's been for no special reason. Other times, I'm in the midst of a crisis. Today, I go regularly to see my counselor, and I think everyone—pastor, plumber, or professional wrestler—should consider seeing a counselor (in fact, definitely the wrestlers ... because, seriously).

According to a University of Phoenix study from 2014, the majority of Americans (97%) believe mental health issues are at least somewhat of a serious problem in the U.S.

Further, almost two-thirds of Americans (62%) report that they have personally experienced mental health issues.

Despite financial barriers, lack of coverage, and social stigma, almost half of the 43.6 million American adults (44.7%) who experienced a mental illness in the past year received mental health care, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The number of people seeking professional counseling for their mental health issues is on the rise. That's encouraging.

And yet, many professional caregivers—such as pastors, social workers, and others involved in counseling and caring for others in times of crisis—avoid professional counseling. Despite high levels of stress, the prevalence of burnout, and the need for self-care, many caregivers do not enlist professional help. They do not seek a safe place where they can process and receive input from a professional counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

I get it. The social stigma can be tough, the costs can be prohibitive, and the fear of running into someone you know at the office can turn you off to the idea quite quickly. But hear me out. There are both push and pull factors that put me in my counselor's chair frequently.

Here are mine:

1) Fear of Burnout—stress is a normal, and necessary, part of anyone's life. Burnout—a stress-related emotional collapse or breakdown that can result in chronic stress—should not exist. And yet, many pastors and other caregivers burn out all the time. I've been there, and I haven't even been at this "pastor" thing for very long.

If you're regularly exhausted, feeling like you don't want to get out of bed to face the day, dreading that upcoming meeting, or wondering whether or not this job is for you, I believe you should consider seeking out someone safe to talk to about it. Your family, your church, your community, and your soul will thank you for it.

2) Catharsis and Counsel—I've got issues. I'm pretty sure you do, too. That professional wrestler we both know does. We all need a place, or a person, where we can dump the feelings of resentment, anger, disappointment, failure, insecurity, inadequacy, and loneliness we feel in the course of our life and career. Dumping them on the wrong person can cause us, and countless others, untold anguish.

For this, a counselor is perfect. Counselors are trained to take the venting, to engage in role-playing, or help us grow as we share our vexations. Our drinking buddies, stuffed animals, and the steering wheel of our car are not.

3) Learning Empathy and Best Practices—beyond the personal benefits of seeing a counselor, there are also professional advantages. Sitting on the other side of counseling gives pastors, and other caregivers, an opportunity to see what it's like to sit "on the other side of the room." As I feel those sensations of anxiety, insecurity, and of being lost, I can take that understanding into the next meeting I have with someone who's bringing me their cares. Not only that, but I learn from my counselor tips and best practices that make me a better pastoral counselor and friend to the people I love in my life.

For these reasons and more, I think it's a great idea for pastors to not only provide counseling to those they care for, but to care for themselves and seek out professional counseling themselves.

Written by Ken Chitwood

You can let us know what you think about this by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Loneliness

Loneliness is an odd thing. We all recognize it when it happens, and yet it's not that easy to get at what exactly it is, or how to prevent it. A person stuck at home because of illness or disability is likely to be lonely with very little human contact, but so is a mother or father of young children who spends the whole day with under-fives and can't even get enough privacy to go to the toilet alone!

Being Alone?

Clearly loneliness isn't the same thing as solitude. It's possible for some people to spend days or weeks alone (maybe camping in the Sierras?) and not feel lonely for a single moment. I'm one of those people. And yet some of my loneliest times have been in rooms where there are at least a hundred other people within earshot, all milling around and drinking coffee together.

So in loneliness, something else is going on besides lack of human contact—though that happens, too. The Bible tells us that in the beginning, God looked at the first human being He created and decided it wasn't good for that person to be all alone. But before God fixed that situation (by creating another person!) God drove that point home by having the first one look all through the animal creation, getting to know everything, until it was clear there was nothing and no one comparable out there. Poor Adam! No amount of aardvarks or amoebas was going to cut it for him. He must have really appreciated it by the time he met Eve!

I Want Social Input

What did Eve, the second human, bring to the situation? She brought human "input," if I can call it that, into Adam's life. And that's something we all need to avoid loneliness. Have you ever noticed how some people go home to an empty house and immediately turn on the TV, even though they have no intention of watching it, and they're not even in the same room? They want, they need the background noise, the sound of human voices. Others are continually on the Internet, getting their fix of humanity through Twitter or Facebook or texting. Human input seems to be a non-negotiable for pretty much everybody, even if the amount needed varies from person to person.

But Eve brought more than that when she came along. By being there, she insured that there was someone in Adam's life who had some concern for him—who noticed his existence and was interested in it—who was able to provide the "give" as well as the "take" of human interaction. I think this is where the parents of small children get their loneliness from. There's no shortage of human interaction when you've got a baby wailing every time you set him down, and constantly wanting to be fed or changed or soothed or put to sleep. And yet that baby is pretty much all about the "taking," with almost no giving. It's natural at that age. But it contributes to a unique kind of loneliness—the loneliness of the caregiver who nevertheless is not seen as a fellow human being with needs and wants of his or her own. No wonder parents long to spend time with other adults!

I Need Social Output

But other kinds of loneliness might be even more common. Consider the loneliness of a person who is always on the receiving end—whether that's because of sickness or disability or age or simple isolation. A hospital bed can be a very lonely place, in spite of all the professionals (and even visitors!) interested in your welfare. A person who's going through major crisis—whether it's financial or emotional or family or health-related—that person can feel pretty lonely, too, even as everyone else is trying to help. These are situations where human interaction is all "take" and no "give"—like a lake where there's constant inflow, but no outflow. It seems that the imbalance leads to loneliness. And this might be why the old-fashioned advice for lonely people is for them to get involved in some sort of activity or service project—because it will "take you out of yourself." It seems that being completely "in yourself" is a lonely place to be.

Dealing with Loneliness

So what if it's you? How can you cope with loneliness? There's no one-size-fits-all answer, as no doubt you know already. This article isn't going to solve all your problems (though I wish it did!). And much as I'd like to, I can't say something facile like "Go to church and you'll never be lonely again." Because that's baloney. Some of my loneliest times have been in church.

But you might want to consider the whole social inflow/outflow problem as it relates to your own life. Do you have contact with people who care about you and want to know how you are doing? If not, what can you do to get that contact? Taking a class, getting involved in an activity where you meet the same people again and again, even (yes!) going to church can help. Affection and even friendship tend to grow over time between people who see the same folks again and again and again—even when those people are the complete opposite of soulmates.

What about your outflow—are you doing anything to impact other people's lives for good? If not, consider some sort of service activity. (Doing a Men's NetWork GIVES BACK event this year between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is one way to make this happen. See the article in this issue!) Believe me, people will notice and miss you immediately if you are the one who normally delivers a meal/calls a shut-in/tutors a child and suddenly you're absent one week. But even aside from that, the simple act of being effective in the larger world tends to cut down loneliness. Grandma was right—it "takes you out of yourself."

Certainly this isn't going to prevent any and all lonely feelings from now to forever, not for you and not for me. And if we've got other problems going on, like job or relationship issues, those things are going to just add to the loneliness. But if God is as aware of our lives and as caring as Christianity says He is, we can look to Him for help. Because He knows what it means to be lonely. Jesus experienced it many times. And He wants the best for us.

Written by the THRED team

What do you do to get around being lonely? If you notice or sense someone else is lonely, do you make an effort to give them some companionship? Do you have any examples you can share?

You can let us know what you think about this by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.