Help! I Feel Disconnected!
Several people have commented recently about feeling disconnected during this very unusual time, when gatherings, in general, are on hold or restricted. The risk of viral infection has not only kept us from worshipping together on Sunday mornings; it has disrupted us…our routines, our emotions, our expectations, and, for many of us, even our private spiritual disciplines. This is a powerfully dark aspect of “social distancing”, and a deep sense of isolation—physical, social, emotional, and spiritual isolation—has become an overarching symptom of the current pandemic.
We need to recognize the importance, even the centrality, of fellowship to the Christian life. While all humans, even introverts, are created for relationship by their Maker, there is a uniqueness to Christian fellowship. We are not just so many individuals who happen to believe certain things in common; we are Christ’s Church. The corporate language emphasized in the Bible is inescapable: a body with varied but united parts, a family, a household, a people, a nation, a sheepfold, a temple built of living stones, and more. Perhaps the most basic, if least understood, is simply “the Church”.
The New Testament Greek word translated as “church” is ekklesia, meaning “the called-out ones”. This term finds its origins in the Greek city-state, where it described the qualified citizen-leaders gathered to make governing decisions. Mounce’s Complete Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words points out that the Christian use of ekklesia drew not upon the Greco-Roman tradition, but upon the Old Testament assembly, carried on later in the tradition of the Jewish synagogue for the gathering of God’s people. In any case, there is an innately corporate meaning in the very word “church”, as made clear by such synonyms as “assembly” and “congregation”. We are at our very core a gathered people.
If we bear this reality in mind, it is not very difficult to see why an extended period of not meeting together would have a deleterious effect on us. Regardless of the reasons for our lack of gathering—whether a government prohibition, a concern for safety, voluntary choice, or any other reason—a disruption in assembly and in the resulting fellowship of worshiping, praying, and learning together is bound to leave us feeling like logs pulled out of a campfire; our fire begins to dwindle and fade. We are meant to be together.
Being together and developing family intimacy is central to the nature and call of the Church, yet we cannot escape the realities of our present situation. So what are we to do? How can we keep from becoming disengaged, distant, or numb? I doubt there is any sort of magic formula that “fixes” such things; if there is, I have not found it, nor do I see anything that leans that way in the Bible. In truth, most of what we see in the Scriptures shows life as a sort of growth process, in which we walk, stumble, wrestle, and learn by trusting what God reveals to us in His Word. Magic fixes aside, here are some practical measures we can take to counter the struggles of being “un-gathered”. Five are internal; these have to do with our thoughts and attitudes. Five are external actions we can take that build on the thoughts we choose. All of them are controllable, practical measures that each us can take to combat disconnectedness.
Take charge of your own thoughts.
We must control our thinking, because our thinking controls us; that is, our thinking drives our feelings and our actions. If we fail to master our thoughts, someone else will—namely the world, the flesh (the natural person we were before being reborn in Christ), or the devil. For this reason, Paul encourages us to follow his example by taking our thoughts captive and forcing them to align with the truth of God’s Word in obedience to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Rather than letting our emotions carry us off and muddle our thinking, we need to submit all of our concerns to God in prayer, gratefully trusting Him to handle our needs, and choosing to focus our minds on things that are true, real, and beautiful. (Philippians 4:4-8)
Take a long view.
Look beyond the immediacy of what you are feeling right now; understand that this moment is not forever. Choose to concentrate your attention on things above, the things of God, rather than focusing on the things that belong to this world, all of which will ultimately pass away. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Colossians 3:1-2) God is moving; He is working out His plans. Understand that what we see or feel in the present is just a tiny part of His long-term plans for His children, and trust God to do what He knows is best. Live today with eternity firmly in mind as we await the coming of God’s Kingdom. (2 Peter 3:3-13)
Remember that feeling alone is not the same as being alone
Feelings of loneliness and depression are not at all uncommon in the Christian life, even when we know the reality of Christ well. We all get down. It is not a trite or small thing to remind ourselves of the basic reality that we are never truly alone, for the Lord is with us in our troubles. (Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20) We could not escape His presence if we tried. (Psalm 139:1-12) Nonetheless, God designed us for human interaction and fellowship (Genesis 2:18), so we are prone to loneliness and emotional turmoil without it. Elijah knew the depression that such feelings produce, but God reassured him that he was certainly not alone; Elijah was not aware of the thousands God had raised up and preserved by His own hand. (1 Kings 19:10-18) Even when we feel alone, we are not alone. The Lord is with us, and our connection to His other faithful ones does not end when we are physically separated.
Recognize God’s hand in this difficult time.
Just as God had a plan for His people even in allowing Babylon to overrun them (Jeremiah 29:4-14), He has a plan for His people in the current pandemic. Choose to see things through that lens, recognizing that God is using this to build your character and make you more like Christ; embrace it as a glorious, joyous opportunity for that reason. (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4) God is working—not in spite of the pandemic, but through it—for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. (Romans 8:28)
Let go of your expectations.
Much of our anxiety, mental anguish, and emotional turmoil is the result of our expectations. When our expectations are out of sync with reality, we face blocked goals, uncertain outcomes, and bitter disappointments. We worry about things that belong to this temporary world and are beyond our control, rather than trusting God to care for us. (Matthew 6:25-34) We must recognize that what we plan or expect is always subject to the will of God. (James 4:13-16) While we may have desires and plans, it is the Lord’s will that prevails, so we need to adjust our expectations accordingly. (Proverbs 16:9, 19:21) We must take reality as it is, not as we wish it were. This applies to our expectations of relationships and emotions, as well.
Reach out and pursue connection.
It is true that our normal in-person connections have been disrupted, but that does not mean we are without options. It simply means we adapt and overcome. Now we must work actively at creating contact; we can no longer just “let it happen” as we go to our common places at common times and bump into one another. Learn to take the initiative, rather than passively waiting for something to happen or for someone else to reach out to you. Whether it is a phone call, a text, or perhaps a handwritten card, be proactive. Reach out to someone…anyone. Think of someone, especially someone at church, with whom you have been out of contact. Pray for them. Then contact them; just check in and see how they are. Do that with someone outside your family at least once a week, and more if you can. You may be surprised that such a little thing can have such a big impact.
Find ways to serve others.
One key to combatting disengagement and depression also happens to be central to Christian living: serving others. Look for ways to do something that benefits someone else, preferably something that takes a bit of effort or sacrifice. Jesus said that “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve,” and that His followers were to consider themselves servants to everyone. (Matthew 10:40-46) Ministering to the needs of others takes our minds off ourselves, which is central to overcoming feelings of loneliness, anxiety, isolation, and depression. It could be task-oriented serving, like volunteering to clean the church or helping to mow someone’s lawn. Delivering baked goods or flowers to someone who may also feel disconnected is another option. Perhaps this is an opportunity to volunteer at the Harbor Country Emergency Food Pantry & Thrift Shop or at Harbor Country Mission. In any case, serving someone else has the serendipitous effect of getting you out of your house and out of your head.
Commit to a small group that meets regularly.
While “big church” may not be the best option for some of us while COVID-19 remains an issue, meeting in smaller, controlled groups affords the ability to connect, but in a safer environment. Groups of two to six easily allow for physical distancing and for monitoring the health of those involved. Groups can gather in any number of formats for any number of purposes. For example, invite three friends to have a weekly Bible study, or meet every third Tuesday of the month to play board games. Meet on Saturday evenings with a younger couple to talk about marriage and parenting, or gather some retired friends for a regular Thursday brunch. If you are not currently attending Sunday morning worship in person, try inviting a friend or two to join you in watching online; it will enhance your Sunday experience, help minimize the risk of spiritual laziness and sloppiness, and connect you with others. The options are virtually endless, but just find a few folks, and develop the habit of meeting together regularly in a reasonably controlled and safe environment.
Develop (or reestablish) a routine of personal spiritual development.
For many, the global health emergency did more than just keep us at home; it disrupted our personal routines. Working from home, kids home from school, utterly abnormal schedules, and the like have left many people lost and floundering with regard to personal health habits, the most important of which is personal spiritual development. Most Christians probably already lacked or struggled to find a habit of “quiet time” or “devotional time”—a regular time of prayer, Scripture reading, and developing our intimacy with the Lord. Add a pandemic to the busyness of life and general lack of emphasis on this practice, and it becomes easy to see how we might let it slide and begin to feel spiritually disconnected. Make time alone with God a priority, and you will marvel at how your intimacy with Him grows. Make no mistake, however; this is a matter of discipline. There is no easy, one-size-fits-all way to make this happen; you must simply choose to make it happen. Prioritize it, make a plan that is workable, protect that time and space, and follow through. When (Notice that I did not say “if”!) you mess up and fall out of the routine, simply get back to it and move forward. If the routine does not work as expected, find something that does, but prioritize your time alone with your Lord ahead of work, hobbies, TV, social media, or whatever else has supplanted it in your life.
Share the Gospel.
This might seem an odd recommendation for battling disconnection in your own life, but sharing Christ with others is a great way to shatter the feelings of seclusion associated with our current climate. What better way to overcome hopelessness than to focus on and tell others about the indomitable hope we have in Jesus? How better to combat loneliness than to invite others to join our eternal family? What greater tool is there for conquering the fear of death than knowing and declaring the Way, the Truth, and the Life? The early Christians in the book of Acts were regular people, yet they set the world on fire with the Good News, because they understood the reality and urgency of telling dying people about the One who saves from death and Hell. Their focus on the mission Jesus gave us to be His witnesses and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8) carried them through hardship and persecution beyond anything we know in our setting. If we are convinced of the reality of Christ and the truth of His Gospel, then we dare not ignore the fact people all around us are dying and spending eternity in Hell nor our mission to win them to life in Christ before they do. Decide to be a witness; choose to do the job that Jesus assigned to each of us. Start by praying that God would prepare your heart and mind, as well as that of the person(s) to whom He will send you—yours to proclaim the Word effectively and theirs to receive it. Then think about individuals within your circle of influence who need to hear the Good News. Write down their names, then post it somewhere as a reminder. Then embrace the awkwardness of initiating a Gospel conversation with them. You may choose to start it with a text or direct message; you may want to talk in person or write a letter. However you decide to start the conversation, by all means start it! It will be a blessing to you and lifesaving for them.
As the chaos of 2020 swirls about us, the struggle is real, but so are the hope we have in Christ and the eternal family to which we now belong. Taking these few internal and external measures can help recalibrate our minds, hearts, and actions, helping us to cut the anchor of disconnected feelings and set sail for spiritual maturity and vibrant Christian living.