The Isolated Self and the Need to Belong

Forty years ago when I played and sang at coffee houses in the mid-west, young people sat around tables engaging in all sorts of lively conversation on a variety of topics. Today, enter any Starbucks coffee shop. The banal music is artificially produced and the dozen or so people sitting around are normally staring at phones or tablets. The virtual addiction to social media today is not unrelated to the widening addiction to internet pornography. Both spring from the same root. They appear to be cost-free forms of community, friendship and intimacy. But there is a cost indeed. Community, friendship and sexuality belong within the matrix of the living relationships of interacting persons. And these come with a cost. The isolated self, the person who is unprepared or unwilling or unable to pay that cost, who has never learned to absorb those costs, will seek substitutes. But far from bringing true human connection and intimacy, these substitutes atrophy the human dimension of living. As a result loneliness is epidemic in our so-called ‘connected’ world. The contemporary cafe culture has all the humanity, liveliness and warmth of a library reading room.

The language I have used above describes, even if a bit crudely, a spiritual void that is epidemic in our time. There is not much sympathy for this assessment today but I believe it remains the core problem of humanity.

All true living involves deep and serious relations with others, and in the final analysis, with God. There is no good or meaningful way around it. Today, with millions of people spiritually marooned in the corners of the isolated self, the resulting widespread fragmentation, loneliness, dissatisfaction, unhappiness and disillusionment we see around us should come as no surprise.

This presents the Church with what has always been its ever-present challenge; to proclaim that one person who is the source of the cohesion that restores and integrates the isolated self into authentic relationship and belonging, in every sense. That one person is Jesus Christ.

Wherever you are, I encourage you to find a church this week where the great events of Holy Week are remembered and celebrated. The great, abiding theme of that week is the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ. Many of life’s connections are temporary, break under pressure or turn out to be forms of manipulation. This is not so with the connection with God in Christ. In Jesus Christ, the isolated, broken fragments of our lives are brought together in the cohesion of God’s love and mercy.




Published by Pastor Mark Anderson

Lutheran pastor, husband, dad, archaeology nut, serious blues guitarist and aspiring luthier.

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