The Culture of Isolation

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I had two very different articles come across my desk this week. I want to share a little from each of them and then write my reaction to them.

The first one was from Facebook. It was the image of a Walmart store with no clerks at any of the checkout lanes. The article said there was only one clerk to help where needed with the auto-checkout machines or to use a regular cash register for the odd person who would not use the automated machines.

As more and more stores use the automated checkout, there are fewer jobs for checkers. The article was mostly about the loss of those jobs.

But for me, it was the loneliness of shopping in a store like that, that hit me hard. I have enjoyed the look of surprise on clerks’ faces when I greeted them by name. Of course we never got in any deep discussion, but it was an opportunity to touch another’s life.

The second one was from a wonderful web site for parents and teachers called, This one told of the huge increase in teens using social media on their phones and the correspondingly huge increase of reported loneliness and depression.

Since about 2010, after smart phone use began to grow, teenagers began to spend much more time on social media and far less time doing things together. The average teenager today does not talk to their friends on their phones, as much as they text or message them on social media.

The article reported from a large survey of the time spent on social media and the time actually with friends. Another study reported the percentage of teens who say they are lonely or depressed. In these studies with skyrocketing screen time came skyrocketing rates of depression and unhappiness.

I don’t want to blame the increase of loneliness all on smart phones and social media. It is not the fault of the media, but our individual and group choices. Highly social people will be social whether in person or over media. More solitary people will continue that way. (Though they may find it is easier to ask questions or make requests over media than in person.) But it is more common to use media to communicate than to meet and talk or to do something together.

Is the pigeon ignoring the parrot or is the parrot ignoring the pigeon?

My concern is with our culture of isolation.

The busier we become, the less time we have for friendships. The more media we have available, the easier it is to fill all our time with things instead of people. When we don’t have enough contact with people, isolation breeds loneliness. Unless we recognize the danger and do something about it, it is easy to slip into mild or serious depression.

I tend to be a task oriented person. I like to tackle a job and do it on my own. I can easily get so deeply involved in a task that I forget about hunger or thirst. Fortunately, I have a very thoughtful husband who reminds me to ‘come up for air’ even in the middle of a job. He is an out-going, friendly man who genuinely enjoys people and looks for ways to connect. I have been blessed! I am much more comfortable with people after our years of marriage than I would have been left to myself.

My single friends who are happy, have found ways to reach out and touch people. They make a conscious effort to plan meeting with friends and neighbors. They have found ways they can help those less fortunate than they are. Of course they use media, but they don’t let that keep them indoors and isolated.

One of the joys we have of living in Malaysia is the coffee shop culture. My husband and I love to go to local coffee shops in our neighborhood for breakfast. Everyone greets everyone. People we don’t know any other way, often stop to talk to us. Even if we are not in on a conversation, we will chuckle as a whole group explodes into laughter at someone’s comments. A friend told her newly widowed friend, all he needed to do to fight loneliness is to go regularly to the same coffee shop. He was bound to find some people with similar interests to do things together with him.

Take a moment to consider:

  • Is there someone you know who is lonely? We need to keep our eyes and ears open for the signs of loneliness in those around us. Are we willing to take some time, even a few minutes to connect with those we encounter?
  • As auto-checkouts take over the clerks jobs, we need to be proactive in finding ways to meet and greet strangers. A smile and friendly greeting may be all you need to do to brighten someone’s day.
  • Are you lonely? Look for others who enjoy the hobbies and activities you enjoy.
  • Finally, and most importantly, pray! Pray for God to lead you to someone who is feeling lonely or discouraged. Pray that God would help you have just the right words to brighten another

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The God Who Sees Me

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It all started when I was reading the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Her story is a sad one. She was an innocent victim of Sarai’s misguided attempt to fulfill God’s promise of a son. After Hagar was pregnant, her relationship with Sarai became so bad, she saw no choice but to run away. Pregnant, angry, alone, she did not believe anyone knew about her or cared. Then God’s angel visited her. He told her she had to return and submit to Sarai, and promised her a son who would have descendants too numerous to count. Comforted, and with a promise from God, Hagar called God by a name that clearly described her experience with him:  The God Who Sees Me. For God had seen all of this crazy, mixed up story. (You can read her story in Gen.16 and 21:8-20)

That led me to read Psalm 139 again. It tells us in more detail the ways God sees us. He sees us when we sit and stand. He knows our thoughts and our words before we speak them. He sees us in the best and worst places we go. He sees us as well in darkness as in light. He even saw us being formed in our mother’s womb. You may know all of that, but perhaps this is a good time to focus on those truths again- find freshness in them.

So, how does God see you?

God sees your whole life; past, present and future. Since He sees it all, He is not surprised by events that surprise you. He sees how each part fits into His plan, what He can do with it, and how He will make it all work for your good.

He saw your body being formed in your mom’s womb. He knew the effect those genes and hormones would have on how you grew and how you age. He doesn’t look at us and say, “Oh, my, you’ve gotten quite fat or wrinkled or gray.” As we give our body to Him, He helps us become all we should be. He helps us be satisfied with ourselves. He gives us strength every day for that day’s needs. He sees you as you are and loves you.

He sees your thoughts and feelings. He sees when you are irritated or afraid or tired. He sees when you struggle with anger, and calms you if turn to Him. He provides a way of escape from your temptations. He sees you turn your thoughts away from the world’s way of thinking and He is pleased. As you spend time in His Word and with Him, even your thoughts are more in tune with Him.

He sees your hopes and dreams. Many of these He placed there for you to have a future to aim for. He knows what it will take to get you there. He will take you step by step to see your God-given dreams fulfilled.

He sees your hard work. He planned your work and then He helps you do what He planned. It makes Him happy when He sees your desire to please Him in everything you do. Whether your work is fulfilling or tedious, whether you see the worth of that work in this life or not, God stores up rewards in heaven for everything you’ve done in obedience to Him.

He sees where you go and why. Your agenda is not hidden from Him. Nothing pleases Him more than when you turn over your agenda to Him. He can turn it into a sweet-smelling offering.

He sees when others take advantage of you or persecute you. Your tears are kept, as in a bottle, as a memorial to Him. It is His work to vindicate you. In His time and in His way, He will give everything back to its rightful owner.

He sees your needs. Why not pour out to Him what your needs are? He knows them, but He loves to hear you ask. He longs to talk to you and fellowship with you.

Take a moment to consider:

Is there something in your life that you have hoped God doesn’t see? He has already seen it. Why not talk to Him about it? Is there something you thought He should have seen, but doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it? He has seen it. In ways you could never imagine, He will make that thing right. Trust God to see you with all the love of a Father for His dear child.

Seeing My Young Self

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Have you ever wondered if what you remember about yourself and your childhood or adolescence is accurate? I have! On my best days, I remember a happy childhood in a middle class family in a suburban home in the 50’s and early 60’s. On my bad days, I remember being an argumentative teen who made life hard for everyone in my family.

This week, I began transcribing letters I wrote to my family while I was an exchange student in Medellin, Colombia for three months. I was 15 years old and knew very, very little Spanish before I went. And I was a very new believer in Jesus.

These letters were saved by my Mom and a cousin began the job of typing them. For many years they were in a scrapbook my Dad began for me. Then after we had a computer, I gathered both the typed letters and those that were still just as I had sent them- written with pencil on onion skin paper. For many years they were left in a file cabinet only to be rediscovered this past Fall. Just now, I’m actually getting them typed and saved in electronic format.

I am delighted to meet my 15 year old self on my first trip overseas and totally away from everything familiar. I’m being reunited with my Colombian foster family and beginning to learn Spanish and the customs of a different land.

I am seeing what a great foundation that has been in my life for all the time I’ve spent overseas. I was beginning to see that just because something is different, it doesn’t mean it is bad or wrong. This has helped me enjoy new customs everywhere we have gone. I learned that even if I couldn’t use words to communicate my interest in people, I could still show them they were important to me.

I’m seeing the beginning of my personal spiritual development. God was teaching me with only a Bible and an Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I began to see personal applications for the Bible reading I was doing. God was teaching me to trust His Spirit to guide me even when I was not aware of Bible principles.

The first time I prayed in tongues was like the day of Pentecost. Mamá had a heart attack one evening. I was so concerned for her and sat on her bed, holding her hand and praying in beautiful words that I couldn’t understand. The next day Mamá was well! She wanted to know why I could speak such fluent, beautiful Spanish last night and was back to my baby Spanish the next day. In just a day or so, I read about Pentecost in my assigned Bible reading. God assured me that what I had done in praying for Mamá was praying in tongues. This happened again a few days later when Johnny, the four year old son had a fever and severe ear ache. Mamá woke me at 2am to ‘pray for Johnny like you did for me.’ I did the same thing and Johnny was well in the morning. All praise to God! He used an untaught teenager to bring health to that family. He deepened my relationship with Him and reliance on Jesus through that experience, too.

After beginning this transcription and getting to ‘see’ my young teenage self, I wish I had kept journals throughout my life. I have a few fits and spurts of journals, but nothing as complete as these letters.

If you do not journal, please consider starting now. God may use this practice to enrich your life now and in the future. He may use those journals to bless your children too.

Ask a Question

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I was reminded recently of a lesson I learned while working as an RN in the Newborn Nursery.

I was working part time while studying towards my degree.

One evening I was angry with the aides working with me. They were not doing what they were supposed to do. They had not been reporting to me as they should, when babies were cold. This had happened before and I did not want them to continue to shirk their duty. So I called an ‘all hands meeting’ for when the babies were asleep and fed.

I was brooding as I awaited the meeting time. One young aide walked by the nurses’ station, got my attention and then just said, “Ask a question.” She continued on her way without another word.

Ask a question. Ask a question. What did she mean? What was I supposed to ask?

As soon as everyone gathered, I said, “I’ve noticed that no one is reporting to me when a baby in their nursery has a low temperature. Why not?” Heads dropped around the circle and then one bold soul said, “If we tell the nurse who is here when you aren’t, she gets angry with us and tells us to take care of it on our own.” This opened lots of enlightening discussion. I was able to end by saying, “I want to know everything you know about any baby in your nursery. I will help you and I’ll alert the doctor when it is important for him to know.” The whole atmosphere in the nursery changed.

I had made an assumption. I was ready to make an accusation. But by stating the problem and then asking an open-ended question, the charged atmosphere was calmed. The aides felt safe enough to voice their dilemma and a real solution was found.  

This simple word of wisdom has been helpful to me throughout my life. When I begin to feel agitated or frustrated, all kinds of criticisms jump to mind. I can begin to feel self-righteous or vindictive. By taking a little time to think about a way to ask a question instead of blurting out my charge against them, resolution is much more possible.

Just for the record, children rarely know ‘why’ they do anything. But try asking them other open ended questions like, “What did you expect to happen when you did. . .?” or “Can you think of a safer way to do that?” Sometimes there is only one thing to say then, “Don’t do it again.”

Another time I find myself asking a question is when a friend or acquaintance looks sad or pre-occupied. I sometimes just ask, “Do you want to talk about it?” I may have no idea what “it” is, but they could have been wanting to process their thoughts out loud and not known who would listen without judging them.

Take a moment to consider:

Is there a situation in your life could be helped by asking a question? What question would you like to ask? You might be very surprised by the answer you receive.

Step on the Escalator

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When I was a little girl, the department stores had wooden escalators. I was terrified to step onto that moving step!

Why was I so afraid? Sometimes I imagined I would fall headlong down that long flight of stairs. Other times I thought my shoe would get stuck in the spaces between the treads. The clunking of the mechanism exaggerated the dangers in my mind. My heart would race and I’d shiver.

I’d stretch my foot out towards the first step, but hesitate so long that the next step was halfway there before I could get up my nerve to step on. Then I’d jump back and refuse to get on. Mom would try to assure me I could do it, she’d offer to take my hand and step on with me. I’d refuse so long a line formed behind us and we’d have to let others get on first. Sometimes they would turn around and smile at me and say, “See I’m OK, you can do it too.” I’d blush with embarrassment. Mom would entice me by telling me she would help me pick out my treat from the bargain basement sale bins. I don’t remember now, what finally helped me get over this fear. But to this day, there are times when I still have a momentary hesitation before getting onto an escalator.

We’ve been trying to help some different friends deal with hard things they experienced recently. There are no easy answers to their depression, grief, and illness. The pat answers don’t help! “There’s nothing to worry about.” or “Your loved one is in a better place.” or “Others have much worse problems than you do.” In some cases there is some small thing we can do, but in most of them, the best we have to offer is a listening ear, tender heart, and faithful prayer.

As I was trying to process these different troubles, one thing kept coming to mind. God knows and He knows how we can get through troubles like these. The mental image of me standing at the top of that wooden escalator came to mind. My mom knew I could ride that escalator safely. She knew she would not leave me for even a second. And she knew there was something good for me at the other end of that ride. All I had to do was trust her and step on.

When we are faced with situations that overwhelm us. We feel like that little girl seeing apparent danger. We don’t want to take that ride! It’s just too scary. We get embarrassed that we have emotional responses we don’t seem capable of controlling. We may stomp our feet and ‘refuse’ it, only to realize it is inevitable.

But like my Mom, God will never abandon us (Deut. 31:8). God has compassion on us (Psa. 103:13-17). God has a future and a hope for us (Jer. 29:11). And God wants us to turn to Him all the time and trust Him (Psa. 62:5-8).

Take a moment to consider:

Is there something you are facing that you feel is just too big and scary to face? Is there something that has happened to you or your loved ones that makes you wonder whether God knows or cares about you? Does the future look bleak? Why not pour out your heart to God? He already knows how you feel and what you are thinking, but He wants you to tell Him. Find your hope and strength in God as you trust Him to be all you need to take the next step.