Loneliness: The Pandemic Inside the Pandemic

image source: nalc.gov.uk

Loneliness is a big problem, and the pandemic is making it worse. Here’s how an article on Vox puts it:

The coronavirus pandemic has created a loneliness epidemic. Social distancing, while necessary from a public health standpoint, has caused a collapse in social contact among family, friends, and entire communities — one that is particularly hard on populations already most vulnerable to isolation.

But Americans were experiencing a loneliness crisis long before anyone had heard of Covid-19. In a 2018 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 22 percent of all adults in the US — almost 60 million Americans — said they often or always felt lonely or socially isolated. The problem is even more concentrated among older adults: A major National Academies of Sciences report from February found that a little more than a third of adults over the age of 45, and 43 percent of adults over 60, felt lonely (other surveys have returned similar results).

Loneliness isn’t simply painful; it can be lethal. Several meta-analyses have found the mortality risk associated with chronic loneliness is higher than that of obesity and equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

The article goes on to interview former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Murthy’s new book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, is about this loneliness epidemic that has taken hold across much of the Western world.

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We need support now more than ever … and it’s getting harder to find

“Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.”
– Stanley Hauerwas  

“To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” – Bell Hooks  

“There are people who are shocked and appalled to find out that there are other people in their congregation that have completely different views on the best way to handle a pandemic.” – Pastor Trevin Wax  

Several years ago, the journalist Aaron Gell decided to write an article about a small, annual men’s gathering in upstate New York. So he went to the gathering, and got involved in the relationship network being created by it. He was impressed by their desire to not simply create an event, but an ongoing community. And he realized how rare that kind of community really is.  

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3 Things I’ve Learned in 34 Years of Marriage

This weekend, my wife Charlene and I will celebrate 34 years of marriage. It’s hard to imagine that we’ve been together so long. We are so young! How did this happen?! One day you wake up, and you realize you’ve been with this person for 34 years.

I wrote about these three myths in my email newsletter, but I’d like to share them here as well. I’ve seen many marriages struggle, and many break apart. I’ve also seen people stay together in marriage, but live with ongoing dysfunction, lack of intimacy, and unhappiness. Having marriages that last is a pretty low bar of “success.” What we want is not simply that marriages that endure, but marriages that thrive.

I have come to believe that good marriages are rare, because they’re hard to sustain. But they are worth the effort! Believing these three myths get in the way of that:

Myth 1 — That a good marriage shouldn’t require a lot of maintenance 

Maintenance has gotten a bad rap. We don’t think that good relationships should need maintenance. If somebody is difficult to get along with, we call them “high maintenance.” In marriage, many people assume that if they marry the right person, then the relationship should stay strong and healthy without a lot of maintenance. They assume that as time goes by, a good relationship will just stay strong. 

It doesn’t work that way. GK Chesterton once said that “the fundamental flaw of conservatism is believing that if you leave a white picket fence alone, it will stay white.” It’s the belief that if don’t do anything to “mess with,” tune up, or re-invigorate something, that it will continue on as is. It won’t. If you want your white fence to stay white over time, you’ll have to clean it periodically, and re-paint it every few years. 

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Report on Teaching in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand … population 9.7 million

Recently, my wife Charlene and I traveled to Thailand, teaching about addiction, recovery, self-care, and healthy leadership. We flew out of Minneapolis on February 25, and got back home on March 14. What a trip it was! Since we’ve asked for people’s prayers and contributions to support this trip — and many of you stepped up to provide this — I want to give you report of what happened, what it was like, and what we learned.

The Leadup … questions about COVID-19

In the days leading up to our trip, news about the spread of the COVID-19 virus beyond China were starting to be heard. We wrestled about whether or not to cancel the trip and the events there. I was hesitant to do so for a variety of reasons. One important reason was that we had already put this trip off once (we were originally scheduled to go in 2019, but felt at that time it was too early in my ministry at Bethel Church to take a trip like this).

As you can imagine, the days leading up to our departure were full of preparations, packing, and tying up loose ends with church responsibilities. I was also checking in daily with our Thai host, evaluating the current state of virus concerns in Thailand (Are workshop participants still planning to attend? Should we cancel? etc.). Through prayer and conversations with our YWAM host, we made the decision to proceed with our trip as planned.

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Dealing with Doubts and Anger Towards God

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

– Paul Tillich

“If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

– Yann Martell

Many religious people live with profound spiritual confusion and contradictions. They profess certain beliefs and values, but their actions demonstrate otherwise. They know they are “supposed to” think and feel a certain way about God, the spiritual life, and death, but they don’t. They have nagging questions and doubts, and cope by trying not to think about them.

For the most part, they love God — after all, that’s the first and greatest commandment, right? But they also feel confused about God’s ways in the world. Sometimes this confusion gives way to anger and bitterness. Of course, they would never say this out loud, and don’t even like to admit it to themselves. But these mixed spiritual feelings are more common than people think, and are often the root of what seems to be “lack of commitment” in our churches.

In my work as a pastor, I’ve dealt with many people who struggle with these contradictions. Sometimes they recognize them, but often they don’t. As I said, it’s hard to admit that we have doubts, and hard to acknowledge confusion and negative feelings about God. Especially in church, where we’re all supposed to be “on the same page.”

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Five Things I Learned from a 30-Day Media Fast

“We now live in a world where we eat content, drink content and breathe content, without giving a single thought to its composition or what kind of impact it has upon our lives.”
― Abhijit Naskar

Not long ago, I took a month-long media fast: time away from social media, online news, magazines, newspapers, TV and radio news. I’m thinking about doing it again. Here’s what happened, and what I learned:

What I did … and why

I was aware of — and bothered by — two things: (1) How much time I was spending on social media, surfing the internet, and watching TV (2) How agitated I was getting, especially from social media and television content that focused on politics and news.

I read a lot — books, magazines, and Internet articles — and it seems like my head is often swimming in stories, opinions, news flashes … most of which seem to focus on what is bad or wrong about our world, things I should be worried about, or trying to change.

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Six Keys To Controlling Your Thoughts

“Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.” ― James Allen 

“When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.
― Francois de La Rochefoucauld

To what degree is it possible to control our thoughts? Our mental health and success in life may well depend on this ability. If we struggle with addiction — especially sex or pornography addiction — our recovery may well depend on it. Many of us struggle with negative thought patterns — sometimes even intrusive thoughts — which rob us of our peace of mind, and keep us from making progress.

Think about it: the roots of both depression and anxiety have to do with thoughts we can’t shake — whether those thoughts are related to fears of what might happen, or a general sense of things going wrong and/or life being pointless.  I understand that clinical depression and anxiety disorders have multiple factors, and may require extensive treatment, including therapy and medication. But many of us are “on the spectrum” for anxiety and/or depression. We may not be clinically anxious or depressed, but we struggle. The good news is that there are things we can do, as you’ll see in this article. 

With many forms of sex addiction, the problem also centers around our thoughts. We mull over fantasies, or we obsess over a person we desire. Our destructive actions arise from thoughts that center around lust, loneliness, insecurity, and fear. For some people, the essence of the sexual struggle is mainly in the mind: near constant obsessive and intrusive sexual thoughts. 

How do we change our thinking? How do we exert control over our wandering minds? Here are six keys that will change your life: 

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Why is Everybody so Anxious and Depressed?

“I have come to believe that without a strong sense of community human beings will wilt and begin to die. Community is the foundation of human society, the epitome of wholeness; in fact, the end of our journeying. As Parker Palmer writes: ‘Community means more than the comfort of souls. It means, and has always meant, the survival of the species.’ Without a continuing and enriching experience of community, as well as a vision of its glory to keep us moving forward, all of us eventually perish.”  ― David Clark

Why is everybody so unhappy and anxious these days? I’ve written about this before: mental disorders — especially ADA (anxiety, depression, and addiction) — have become a pandemic in our society. 

In this article, I’d like to focus on the question: “How did we get here?” Why is it that ADA have gotten so out of control? I’m not proposing a complete answer, but I want to suggest that one of the primary causes is the rise of social isolation, disconnection, and alienation in our world.

Another way of saying that: it’s because of the breakdown of community. 

And this breakdown includes not simply a loss of human connection, but for many it also involves the loss of spiritual connection as well. We are witnessing a massive breakdown of spiritual community in our time … not just families, neighborhoods, and communities. And it’s literally killing us. 

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