Loneliness is a Killer
Loneliness is a killer.
Not just a catch phrase but the considered opinion of the former Surgeon General of the USA who oversaw the work of 6,000 public health doctors. And this was not just a lockdown phenomenon! Back in 2017 Dr Vivek Murthy stated the detrimental effect of loneliness in the workplace on life expectancy was as bad as someone smoking 15 cigarettes every day.
Loneliness. At work. Is killing people.
This means there are likely to be people where you work who feel marginalised, inadequate, afraid, unpopular, insecure, uncool. People who doubt their sense of worth and who doubt their value in the sight of colleagues. People who feel on the outside. It may be you. But it may also be someone you work with.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, and he explains that the neighbour of special significance is the person everyone passes by. For us as Jesus’ followers that means those in our vicinity who are living on the margins. Both in our home neighbourhood and also in our workplace.
In his 1997 book The R Factor Michael Schluter proposed five ways we can set about growing deeper relationships: Directness - face to face time not just SMS; Continuity - which means staying in touch over time, perhaps even through job changes; Common Purpose - in its most basic sense working together with people to achieve things but it can also include identifying common interests outside work; Multiplexity - recognising that everyone is more than just what they do, so start showing an interest in what they value outside work; Mutual Respect - not creating victim-dependency relationships but valuing people as equal in God’s sight and knowing your own value comes from your relationship with him rather than the number of re-tweets or likes you get.
In Covid times this may have an extra significance. If there are people you work with who feel lonely at work, how might those people feel in differing degrees of isolation?
As you read this please pray that the Lord God might put in your mind people that you can reach out to who may be suffering more than you in their isolation. Not a social-distance-violating reach out, but a ‘hi’ on social media; a determination to chat rather than just email; a question before a zoom call gets going asking how life/family/home is. Pray for wisdom. Do not believe the world’s myths that people are only there for what you can get from them. Do not believe your heart’s myths, that you are the centre of everything.
To turn your attention away from yourself and to invest in the interests, passions and needs of others is to deliberately act against the self-absorption of pride which C S Lewis described as The Great Sin.
Actively loving your neighbour is not only a social thing, it is also deeply spiritual. It is reflective of the absolute nature of our God, not some distant disinterested being nor some abstract force, but the God who is three-in-one, the God who is love, the God who is personal, the God who brings our species into being just so we can have the delight of knowing him. We are created for relationship, we are created to be loved. Loneliness is the very antithesis of human design. As we reach out to love a neighbour in the time of Covid-19, or just in the routine of working life, we become actively involved in ministering the grace of God to his creation.
Written by Tim Vickers, June 2020
(photo credit: Etienne Boulanger, Unsplash)