“I wish I felt more connected.” “I am struggling to connect.” “I feel so isolated and alone at times.” “I am lonely.” “I don’t have any real friends.” “No one really gets me.” “No one really understands and accepts me for who I am.” “My deepest fear is that someone might find out who the real man is behind the curtain.” “I am a fraud.” “I’ve been living a lie.”
As a pastor, I have the special privilege to be invited into the deep places of people’s lives. Places they don’t allow many others to go. Places they keep hidden. Storerooms of insecurity. Closets full of fears. Vaults where they keep all their anxieties. Much of the time it is heartbreaking. Otherwise successful and beautiful and intelligent and gifted people struggling at the core of their identity. The battle is real. It is pervasive. It is ontological. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard the comments quoted above from people I dearly love. Their pain and grief keeps me awake at night. It ripples out into the church family I serve. Relationships become frayed and strained. Awkward conversations lead to more feelings of disconnection. Eventually people just quit trying and give up. They settle for superficiality. Or they move on. And so many never find what they’re looking for.
Is this truly our fate? Are we doomed to live lives of quiet desperation as Henry David Thoreau once wrote? The Bible’s answer is a definitive “No.” We were made to connect. Made for community. Made to live in deep, authentic relationship with one another. One of the earliest and most profound truths ever recorded about the human condition, about human nature, is Genesis 2:18, It is not good for man to be alone. And anyone who has ever felt alone knows intimately how unnatural it feels. It isn’t good. It’s never good. Isolation is indeed evil. It’s why solitary confinement within our prison system is one of the worst forms of punishment.
So if we are not made to be alone…then we are made to connect. And everything about ourselves tells us this is true. We were given five senses through which to interact with the world around us. The sights. Sounds. Smells. Tastes. Touch. Even when one of those is taken away, the others often become more pronounced as our bodies adapt and reach out for more connection. Emotions. Feelings. Matters of the heart. These are given to help us connect with other human beings. Other creatures made in the image of God. They help us navigate the relationships of our lives. The mind. Our intellect. The seat of all our thoughts helps us process and make sense of things so we can engage with those around us. All of these things are tools given to us by our Creator so that we might live lives in rich communion with those around us.
So why the disconnect? One of my favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park ends at a place called Alberta Falls. Depending on the time of year, the falls can be quiet and peaceful or a raging cataract. So much water goes over those falls every year during the spring run off. Fed from melting snow and glaciers much further up the mountain, the water is cold and refreshing and the best part of the hike is taking off your shoes and letting your feet soak in the water. Now the further you get from these falls, the more the water slows down. The volume of water decreases even as it runs through the stream beds carved over hundreds of years. As the plants and trees and flowers soak up the life-giving moisture along the way, there is less and less to go around. Evaporation and ground absorption all take their toll. Eventually, I imagine, the flow dries up completely somewhere downstream.
Ancient Hebrew poets often described God as a fountain. The Psalmist declares, “You are the fountain of life…” “You are Israel’s fountain.” Solomon in his Proverbs writes, “The fear of the Lord is fountain of life.” And then there is the prophet Jeremiah’s famous lament, “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Sadly, we keep repeating these same mistakes.
Connection begins with God. The Fountain from which all living water flows. Drinking from the spring that is the love of God requires intentionality on our parts. A commitment to make the trek deep into Christ. To spend time with Him each day in prayer and reading His Word. It means seeking out the Source of all life so that we can be filled. And once filled, we are then free to give. To share with others our lives. To connect with others in deep ways. We find our fears and insecurities and anxieties cease to have much hold over us. They dissipate in the face of the perfect love of God which casts out all fear.
The reality is that too many of us are trying too hard to do this life on our own even though God has told us that it isn’t good for us to be alone! We give and give and give of ourselves to others but never take the time to fill ourselves up with the love of God. So we end up on empty. And because we are on empty, we have nothing left to give. And when we have nothing left to give, we often hurt each other. Or we try and refill from “broken cisterns of our own making.” We turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, work, greed, the accumulation of things, you name it…all in an effort to fill what is an empty, God-sized tank in our hearts. All the while, God is calling us. Beckoning us. Inviting us to come join Him. Come drink deeply from the water He provides. Come and be filled.