In 2014 the entire country was horrified by the reality of life in Flint, Michigan. The idea that the poisonous water was coming out of their faucets was unthinkable. In their community, there are kids in elementary school who have never been able to drink the water from the tap because it has been poisonous their whole life. No one in Flint takes water for granted now, nor will they ever again.
On the other hand, 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. They have unlimited clean water available to them, and they rarely drink it in quantities that their bodies actually need. They experience increased fatigue, are irritable, have skin trouble, and are at an elevated risk of many other diseases due to dehydration. Obviously, the chronic level of dehydration we experience is not fatal, but it is not how we are designed to function.
God created us to need community, just like he designed the need to drink water. We can technically survive and not get enough, but that is not how we are designed. Today the whole world is feeling the eye-opening reality that Flint faced in April 2014. Not about water, but about the horrible burden of isolation and loneliness. It has become overwhelmingly obvious that we are not meant to be isolated. This is evident to people who know God and those who do not. No matter what you believe we have all come to realize no one thrives in chronic distance.
Numerous studies are beginning to explore the long-term effects of social distancing. Early results show that people are seeing increased anxiety and early signs of PTSD setting from only two short months of social distancing.
But I wonder if the isolation we feel now was present for many of us long before we were physically distanced. I know I felt isolated and alone, even before the stay at home order. Like the dehydrated person, I have been surrounded by the opportunity to engage with other people, to know and be known by other people, which is how I would define community. Pastor Matt Chandler said, “To be 99% known is to be unknown.” The reality for the present age is that we have all lived and existed in some level of social distance through social media. We find out about our friends' pregnancies, engagements, losses, new cars, and so many other things that happen in people's lives not from in-person conversations, but from seeing it in our social media feed. Instead of a comforting hug, or a high five, we give them a thumbs up or a heart. It can be easy to hide behind the pictures and quick captions and live in a mirage of community rather than a deep well. We cannot, and should not, rely on these digital relationships to fulfill our need for connection and community.
In light of the reality of today, what can we do to know and be known?
In my isolation, it has been far easier to go to social media to watch videos of people doing fun things together than to take the effort of connecting with people, making myself vulnerable enough to talk about how I really am, and be willing to listen to them do the same. We are perplexed that we feel thirsty, when there is constant input. Here is the problem: social media is to community is what whiskey is to dehydration. It might look similar, it might make you momentarily laugh and be glad, but in the end, you will be dehydrated. By replacing real, actual relationships with social media or binging on Netflix, we are making a poor substitution for the community we are designed for.
In light of the reality of today, what can we do to know and be known? Let’s take one from the early church playbook. In Acts 2:42 it says the believers “... devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
They devoted themselves to a couple of things in this passage:
The apostles teaching
Read your bible, and be part of the church service. Discuss what you are learning with your community group or with a friend. Be willing to ask questions and discuss not just the “head level” information, but how God’s word is meeting you where you are in your life.
In whatever way is safe and legal during the pandemic, participate in the community of the church through Outward Groups. Be willing to share more than you want about how you are feeling and doing. Since we can’t see one another as much, others may not know to check on you. If you are struggling, reach out. If someone comes to mind, send them a text. If you can’t think of anyone to reach out to, email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask how to get connected to a group.
Breaking of bread
Don’t underestimate how important it is to physically sit down with people from outside your house and eat. To the extent that it is safe and allowed, practice hospitality as much as you can.
Trust that God hears you and sees you. Cast your burdens on him, and trust him with your heart’s desires. Writing down prayers in a journal can be helpful in times when your mind is struggling to focus. Notice too, that prayer in this passage is directed to the body of believers, not the individual. Find ways to pray with others like the Tuesday Zoom prayer meetings or going for a walk and pray with a friend over the phone.
Let’s be a church that is dedicated to one another, where we encourage one another through Scripture, we spend time with one another, we eat meals together, and we pray for each other.
Our job is to acknowledge that we are sinners and that we cannot save ourselves. …
Love Jesus. Live Outward.
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