Many young adults can feel lonely and isolated, even when they seem to have plenty of friends. How do we help our faith communities to be places that embrace the lonely, while also encouraging deep and honest friendships?
A study on 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
Most of us can probably remember the loner or outcast from primary school. And I don’t mean in that cool artistic sense either – but the rejected and bullied social leper. At my primary school it was Craig. He was obviously a damaged kid – his dad wasn’t around, he loved dump trucks, had shocking language, and cried constantly. It was a regular lunchtime occurrence to hear Craig’s flurry of colourful swear word combos amongst his uncontrollable tears, due to some prank at his expense. Each day was a lonely existence for Mr No-friends Craig.
However for lots of people loneliness is something school keeps us immune from – we’re practically forced into friendships. They’re these wonderfully simple relationships. But as we get older and leave school we can discover a sudden lack of those close, deep friendships that humans need to flourish. Sure, we may have a few hundred “friends” on facebook, we may know a bunch of people, we may even be a social maestro – but for many of us we can feel surprisingly alone – acquaintances 214, friends 0.
Studies have shown that, in America at least, the number and quality of people’s friendships have been dropping. 25% of Americans had no close friends, while the average per person was only 2. It seems that while our society is more connected than ever before, for some reason, our world is also disconnecting. And kiwis may be even more prone to this loneliness problem than other nations – for example many people have compared Australia’s culture of valuing their mates, while in comparison kiwi culture has tended to value people who are strong independent types.
Our bible passages show two aspects of this lonely planet problem. Psalms expresses the pain of feeling alone, while 1 Corinthians explores the problems that emerge when a church community begins to alienate some and embrace others. It’s something we all hate the sound of – and yet we can all remember that very thing happening in our own church, and ourselves being part of the problem.
So how do we deal with loneliness in our own lives? How can we be intentional about not isolating ourselves from deeper friendships? And how can our churches and groups be communities that embrace the lonely, and encourage the fostering of friendships than go beyond the superficial?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
1. Read Psalm 142. Can you identify with the Psalmist’s cry of loneliness at all? In what way?
2. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul addresses an issue within the church at Corinth – when they gather together and eat there are divisions among them, and in this case it seems as if the divisions are between the rich and poor. Can you think of any divisions in your own community? What are some of the main things that can create divisions?
3. The issue in this passage doesn’t seem to be that they were not gathering together, but rather that when they were gathering some were excluded in some ways. From your experience do you think it’s possible to be part of a crowd yet still feel lonely?
4. In v20 Paul says when they eat together that it’s “not really the Lord’s Supper that you eat”. He obviously thinks there ought to be some sort of distinction between the Lord’s Supper and other suppers. How might the Lord’s Supper look and be different from other meals?
5. In v21 Paul highlights that the crux of the issue is that some are hungry (the poor) while others are getting drunk (the rich). We might jump to the issue of drunkenness here, but it seems as though Paul is emphasising the issue of the hunger of some amidst the satisfaction of others. Clearly people are getting left out. In our own communities and friendships how exclusive or inclusive are we? Are we actively hospitable or unintentionally inhospitable?
6. Sometimes people are lonely because they don’t fit in – they are hard to include, and, like some of the people in Corinth, can end up humiliated through exclusion. As Christians what drives us to include those who are ‘hard-to-include’ amongst Jesus’ people? Does your community need to up it’s game in this area?
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. How many close friends would you say you have? Do you ever feel lonely? What is it about loneliness that is so destructive for human beings?
2. Why do you think people in today’s society have fewer close friends than other generations – especially given we’re more connected with each other via technology than any other culture? Could all this connectedness also somehow have a negative impact on our friendships? If so, how might we counteract it?
3. One of the lines often said about Jesus is that he brought Good News for the lonely. Do you think this is actually true? How so?
4. Many people avoid being completely honest with our friends for fear of being rejected for who we really are – which can lead to a deep feeling of loneliness, even in our friendships. How honest are you in reality with your friends, or how scared are you of them rejecting who you really are? How could you encourage your closer friends to be more open with you? (Watch Deeper Friendships with Spanky Moore)
5. In verse 20 of our passage Paul says when they eat together that it’s “not really the Lord’s Supper that you eat”. He obviously thinks there ought to be some sort of distinction between the Lord’s Supper and other suppers. How might the Lord’s Supper look and be different from other meals? Does this challenge the way you currently think of communion at all?
6. In verse 21 Paul highlights that one of the big issues in Corinth was that some were going hungry (the poorer people) while others were getting drunk (the richer people) at Church gatherings – the issue being here that some people were being left out. Yet our own faith communities have to strike a balance between fostering deep friendships with it’s danger of cliques, and being inclusive of the lonely with a danger of shallowness. How welcoming to the lonely is your church honestly? How might your church be a place where both friendships of depth and inclusivity are fostered?
7. Sometimes people just don’t fit into a group easily – it can be a struggle to include them, and when you do they can interact with people in ways that can challenge the natural social fabric of a group. And yet the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus was a place that welcomed the outsider. From your experience do you think non-Christians find a community that makes room for awkward people attractive or off-putting? How well does your community do at including lonely and awkward people?
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
Ask someone in your church from outside your group to talk for 5 minutes about a time when they’ve felt extreme loneliness, how they got through it, and in hindsight what might have helped them feel less isolated.
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
Social Workers often report that loneliness is one of our biggest social issues in New Zealand – especially amongst the elderly. As a group brainstorm the people in your church or community who may suffer the most from loneliness – they may be older people living alone in your church, or living in a block of flats or retirement home nearby, or the men at the City Mission shelter, or immigrant students with hardly any friends.
Whoever it is, brainstorm what your group could do together to help eradicate their loneliness in some way, and then put one of those ideas into action.