Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Problem of Isolation


          Here is what a Boston Globe article from a few years back had to say about some local neighbors:
"It can never be said that Adele Gaboury's neighbors were less than responsible.  When her front lawn grew hip-high, they had a local boy mow it down.  When her pipes froze and burst, they had the water turned off.  When the mail spilled out the front door, they called the police.  The only thing they didn't do was check to see if she was alive.  She wasn't.  On Monday, police climbed her crumbling brick stoop, broke in the side door of her little blue house, and found what they believe to be the seventy-three-year-old woman's skeletal remains sunk in a five-foot-high pile of trash, where they had apparently lain, perhaps as long as four years.  'It's not really a very friendly neighborhood,' said Eileen Dugan, seventy, once a close friend of Gaboury's, whose house sits less than twenty feet from the dead woman's home.  'I'm as much to blame as anyone.  She was alone and needed someone to talk to, but I was working two jobs and I was sick of her coming over at all hours.  Eventually I stopped answering the door.'"

          We might think this would not happen in our neighborhood or community, but the problem of isolation is a profound reality.   Do we really know the people located all around us?  Do we actually see them?   Relating electronically, for many people, far outweighs knowing the individuals that pass me by every day.  Even in an actual conversation with another, there can be multiple technological relations taking place through cell phone texting and/or tweeting.



          Although technology serves a purpose and helps connect us in ways previously unheard of, it is now possible to have five-hundred "friends" on Facebook, but have no one person to share the secrets of my life with and express the vulnerability needed for close relationships.  There may be, geographically, people all around us, but we can live in virtual anonymity and loneliness in a modern day prison of isolation of self, pretty much keeping to ourselves and only letting people see a few electronic phrases.

          As people created in the image of God we are highly relational creatures, but those relationships can easily be a mile-wide, and an inch deep.  If we are going to find fulfillment in this present technological age we must find a small band of people who spontaneously go in and out of each other's lives, are actually available to relate face to face instead of being so busy, frequently see one another and spend time together, and share meals and lives often.

          The irony of our age is that we can have hundreds of acquaintances, and not one intimate friend.  Technology is not the real culprit, but only serves to allow us pseudo-relations that protect our obsession with work and time, and guard us from the inevitable pain and hurt that can come with true relationships.  Grace and love are much harder to offer than a tweet.  We are to love one another deeply, from the heart, and experience the true community that shows the world that we are Christians (1 Peter 1:22; John 13:35).

          A dead woman may not be next door to you and me, but the spiritually dead reside all around us.  It takes courage and boldness to be real and vulnerable in relationships, but as believers in Jesus Christ we have not received a spirit of timidity but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).  May we simplify our lives and allow the grace of God to touch us so that we might, in turn, be available to offer grace to those who are isolated and cut off from the love that could be theirs in Christ and in Christian community.

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