I happened to be in Dallas last Friday and went to breakfast with a copy of The Dallas Morning News. A story on the front page caught my eye and led to a second, related story on the following page. A major newspaper in a major American city was fascinated with the phenomenon of loneliness.
“Woman lived alone, with only her fears” declared the below-the-fold headline. The article gave sketchy information about a woman whose mummified body was found and tentatively identified on Wednesday of last week. Police investigators say the body had been there for over a year.
Water service had been shut off in April 2005 for nonpayment. There was no electrical service. There were bars on the windows, and there had been a city citation for litter and high weeds last fall. Nobody remembers seeing the woman who bought the house twenty years ago for more than a year now. They thought she had moved away and simply left the house unoccupied for all this time.
Early investigations profile a timid woman who told a waitress at a cafeteria where she had been a regular for years that she longed to live a happy, healthy life and have a family. But she was so certain nobody would like her that she wouldn’t let the waitress set her up a date with her brother. She wouldn’t go out at night because she was afraid of being bitten by mosquitoes. Her life was dictated by her fears, and she died alone. Her body was not discovered for over a year.
There are reasonable fears that everyone has. But we address them. We move on with things that must be done. We integrate our lives with other persons for the sake of mutual support. We take the risk of forming relationships.
Human beings are created in the image of God, and the God of Christian Scripture is a social being. Father, Word, and Spirit have existed from eternity past in perfect community. The triune deity has created us with the innate drive to produce, share, and live in community as well. While times of solitude are often helpful to creativity, loneliness is both unhealthy and painful.
For the shy and isolated, it must be horrible to reach out. To take the risk of rejection. To put themselves in social contexts that make them feel insecure. But it is a risk worth taking! And those of us who find it easier and more natural to be outgoing certainly have the responsibility of making space in our lives for others. Compassionate with their awkwardness. Sensitive to their fears.
In order to be missed, we must make friends with more than our fears.
Reprinted from Rubel Shelley’s Fax of Life.