In mid-March of this year, life, as we had known it, changed significantly and drastically for most of us.
Going into “shelter-in-place” was something that most of us have never experienced, expected, or even imagined in our lifetime. High school seniors like my son, for example, who were at school with their classmates on a Friday in the middle of their last semester, went home for the weekend not knowing they would never return to high school again.
No goodbyes, no natural transition. Needless to say, as time has worn on it’s been a difficult period to navigate relationally.
The example of my high school son is just one of so many people whose lives and relationships across the board have been turned upside down emotionally.
It is not good to be alone
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it…  The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”Genesis 2:15,18 NIV)
Literally from the beginning of creation, God determined that it was not good for mankind to be alone. God knew that human companionship is essential for our emotional and spiritual health and for us to thrive. This is even supported by recent research findings.
The Cigna Loneliness Index 2018 determined that those who have daily interactions have the lowest loneliness scores.
Furthermore, challenges with loneliness seem most pronounced for the younger generation. The BBC Loneliness Experiment (2018) found that those surveyed who reported feeling lonely the most were the 16-24 yr age group.
40% of this group reported they feel lonely “often” or “very often”. With this in mind, our younger generation is especially vulnerable to even greater loneliness in this time of quarantine and shelter-in-place.
For the past 50 years, American households with just one person (e.g., the divorcee, the elderly single person, etc) have been consistently rising. Currently, 28% of all American households have only one person living alone. This time of the coronavirus must be particularly difficult for these people already living alone isolated now even more by shelter-in-place.
So this pandemic, with all it’s quarantining and sheltering-in-place, has only made another epidemic worse – Covid-19 has only amplified America’s loneliness epidemic.
The fight to stay connected: we need real “facetime”
Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again.  We wanted very much to come to you…1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 NLT
To battle the loneliness factor of the pandemic, people have fought to be adaptable, to survive emotionally, and have found creative ways to stay connected “virtually”. This time of coronavirus sheltering-in-place has given rise to a host of creative Zoom “outlets” – from Zoom birthday parties to Bible talks, game nights, dates, and even Zoom zumba!
However, for many of us, myself included, we’re really starting to feel “all Zoomed out” now.`
I have a lot to write to you. But I don’t want to write with pen and ink.  I hope I can see you soon. Then we can talk face to face. May you have peace…3 John 1:13-14 NIrV
Though digital resources weren’t available in the first century, even the apostle John conveyed here that he had a lot he wanted to say and express but not “with pen and ink”. He was eager to see his friends and talk face to face.
Just like John, when we have a lot to share and express with close friends, we desire the personal versus settling for the digital.
A couple friends and I have even begun joking that we’re ready to design and start selling “I’m all Zoomed out!” t-shirts. You can only go so long trying to sustain connection with friends and family solely through digital means, while our quality of life takes hits emotionally.
In a 2011 Social Research Indicators study, Lee, et al. examined online communication versus face-to-face interaction in relation to quality of life. They found that face-to-face time with family and friends was clearly associated with better quality of life while this was not true for time just spent interacting online.
Dr. Richard Cytowic notes, “Spontaneous interaction with one another in person lets us bounce off ideas, react to body language, and align feelings… A tablet, smartphone, or desktop screen can only satisfy our hunger for connection so much. While Zoom and Skype are preferable to more detached platforms such as instant messaging, neither of them give users what full-bodied person-to-person engagement does.”
I yearn to come and be face-to-face with you and get to know you. For I long to impart to you the gift of the Spirit that will empower you to stand strong in your faith.  Now, this means that when we come together and are side by side, something wonderful will be released. We can expect to be co-encouraged and co-comforted by each other’s faith!Romans 1:11-13 TPT
As Paul illustrates here, we not only need but also long and yearn to be together again in “face-to-face fellowship”. It is so important, even crucial, for us to “co-encourage and co-comfort” each other’s faith.
Across time, coming together with friends has helped us find strength in God in challenging times:
While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life.  And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.1 Samuel 23:15-16 NIV
Then Jesus led his disciples to an orchard called “The Oil Press.”[v] He told them, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”  He took Peter, Jacob, and John with him.[w] However, an intense feeling of great sorrow plunged his soul into deep sorrow and agony.  And he said to them, “My heart is overwhelmed and crushed with grief. It feels as though I’m dying. Stay here and keep watch with me.”Matthew 26:36-38 TPT
And it’s helped us find incredible enjoyment in spending time just being together with each other in the good times:
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.  He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.Mark 3:13-14 NIV
Follow faith, not fear
There’s still a lot about the coronavirus that we don’t know. Even if we take every possible precaution, we will never totally control the unknowns which can create a lot of fear. So as we think about re-entering society, it’s important to examine how much fear or how much faith is guiding our decisions.
While fear isn’t always bad as it tells us to avoid dangerous situations, letting fear control our lives isn’t healthy emotionally or spiritually (Psalm 37:8 NIV).
One way we can overcome fear is by strengthening our faith through fellowship combined with proper caution. If you are having integrity and abiding by public health recommendations in good conscience, you can be confident that you are doing your best to keep yourself and your friends healthy.
Faith mixed with proper caution will guide you so that you can connect again with friends and you don’t have to isolate in fear.
Be creative, not cavalier
“Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. 25 This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.”Hebrews 10:24-25 TPT
People have found creative ways to stay connected “virtually” during shelter-in-place, and now it’s time to find safe but innovative ways to meet as we enter into a different stage of fellowship that will help us navigate these unique times spiritually. Like we all had to do virtually with Zoom over the past few months, this is an opportunity to get creative in new ways to meet with friends while social distancing outside your home.
With mindfulness, we can enjoy close friends in innovative ways. As the scripture directs, it’s NOT the time to “pull away” from or “neglect” each other spiritually and emotionally. Why? Because “we need each other!”
“Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself…I want you to be smart in the same way – but for what is right – using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”Luke 16:8 MSG
Just as Jesus praised this particular aspect of the crooked manager, God wants adversity in our lives to “stimulate” us to “creative survival”, pushing us through new doorways.
Just as we innovated our friendships online the past few months, we must now innovate how we meet up together physically but responsibly given current recommendations.
We can discover creative possibilities to build not only our own faith but also the faith of our friends, especially in a time when the world needs hope.
God is orchestrating the timeline
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you…  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.1 Peter 5:6-7,10 NIV
God will “lift us up” in due time. We have to believe that God is guiding the easing of coronavirus restrictions so we can begin to meet together physically while still following healthy distancing.
One way we can “humble ourselves” is by recognizing our need to pray – for God to continue working to resolve the pandemic, for innovative ways to connect with relationships, and to live by faith over fear – while heeding the public health recommendations over our own opinions.
Instead of living burdened with anxiety about getting back out there with people, we must cast that anxiety on God believing and knowing he cares. Even if we have remained healthy physically, he knows we have suffered emotionally during this time sheltered in place away from friends and family.
God wants to restore us to a life of fellowship and togetherness again. We should be looking for how God is ultimately even using this time to lead to more lives being changed.