On Strowan - Volume 13 // Issue 8 // 8 November 2018
College Chaplain is Paul Morrow.
‘The most important thing!’ This was the title for my message to our Leavers of 2018 at their final chapel on Sunday 28 October.
The greatest challenge facing our young people isn’t drugs or alcohol, the greatest challenge facing our leavers is the ever-increasing experience of isolation.
According to recent research modern life is making us lonely, and it is something researchers believe New Zealanders need to talk about. An ageing population, more people living alone, and the demands of modern life mean more of us – and not just the elderly – are feeling lonely.
If we were to ask people how they have felt in the past four weeks more than 650,000 Kiwis will have felt lonely, and those aged 15–24 are the loneliest. In just two years from 2014 to 2016, the number of Kiwis reporting loneliness rose by 70 per cent.
While in recent history life span has been increasing, the impact of loneliness is reversing this trend. A former US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, explained that the reduction in life span because of loneliness was similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Left unchecked, loneliness increased the chances of experiencing social anxiety, depression and paranoia, according to Dr Michelle Lim, a researcher and clinical psychologist at Melbourne’s Swinburne University. “We are not designed to be alone. We are a social species,” Lim said.
People 25 or younger listed friends as their most critical social network and yet the leavers of 2018 are entering into a world of people who are more isolated, more depressed, less sure of their identity and life’s meaning than ever before. This is having a major impact on our relationships with each other, our community, and our ability to commit.
According to Jordan Peterson, people who thrive in life believe in the prospect that all people are of value. When we value others, we understand our own value, we believe that we are worthy of love and belonging. This belief encourages us to reach out to others in friendship.
University of Auckland professor of Health Sciences, Merryn Gott, has studied loneliness in the elderly as part of the National Science Challenge ‘Ageing Well’. She encourages the non-lonely to get involved in being a solution. Because research showed there was often more reward for volunteers than those needing support. “That act of helping others makes us feel better and makes us feel more connected.”
Friendship is a powerful thing, but it will be messy. I used the metaphor of dirt prepared to plant a seed, in regard to developing meaningful friendships. Healthy friendships take time, there is a process which requires mucking in, taking risks, getting outside of one’s comfort zone, letting your guard down and being vulnerable.
To use the dirt metaphor when one might prepare the ground to plant something, it takes time, it takes dirty hands, it takes care in order for the plant to establish itself, take root and begin to grow. The resulting dirt can produce a beautiful plant which produces an environment where communities flourish, a place where relationships are welcomed and connections made.
I read a blog where people had shared what worried them. And one woman posted: “Are my friends really my friends?” because she had learnt that, too often, the people she thought she could count on … she couldn’t. I think we are inherently selfish and if it comes down to a question of whether I scratch your back, or you scratch mine … I’d prefer you scratch mine.
Knowing and understanding our humanity or lack of it, Jesus says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12). It’s a repeated command throughout the Scriptures. Why? Because loving relationships bring ‘life’ in the same way loneliness brings about a kind of death – life not as it should be.
How did Jesus demonstrate friendship?
“Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” (John 15:13).
I have come to believe that it is not until we abandon ourselves, for something greater than ourselves, that we will ever really experience the truly great things in life. And friendships are one of the truly great, life giving things you will ever experience.
The Christian good news story is of a God who loves us and gives of himself, through his Son Jesus, to gain a relationship with us. The sacrifice Christ was prepared to go through for all humanity demonstrates our infinite worth to God.
This type of friendship gives life and brings life into our lives. I can vouch for this myself, along with billions of others who have gone before me.
PhD student, Elder-Hawkins says, “I think New Zealand’s culture is a very quiet, non-assuming culture, it’s difficult for us to just go up with the intention of befriending someone or having a deeper, more meaningful conversation. Those are things that are difficult for us to do. There’s a real reluctance to initiate connection with other people, but in my experience, it’s always appreciated and very seldom is it turned away.”
Remember the dirt metaphor: Friendships take effort and time, things will not always be easy but with care and support, life beyond imaginings grow, your life will thrive, and your life will save others. So, remember – be real, be authentic, love yourself, serve others and stay connected! This is the most important thing!