Only Love Overcomes Isolation

By Ryan Sanders

Last summer, the United States Surgeon General said that the most common disease in America is isolation. In an interview with Fernando Espuelas, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said that social disconnection is a contributing factor in the problems of violence and mental health. 

“We have to ask ourselves, what causes people to have so much anger in themselves that they visit it upon other people in the form of violence. When we look at that we realize we have a great degree of isolation and frustration in our country.”

Think about that. We are a nation of 320 million people, 240 million of whom have at least one device that connects them to billions of others. Our wealth gives us more leisure time than most of the world’s nations. So we have more tools and time to connect with one another than most people on the planet. 

But we just won’t do it. 

In 2007, the American Sociological Review published a study that reported a dramatic drop in the size most Americans' core network of friends. They used the term “confidant” to describe those people with whom we discuss important issues of life. The study said that the average American has just two confidants. And those reporting no confidants jumped from 10 percent in 1985 to 25 percent.

Let that sink in. One in four people don’t have a single close friend to share life with. 

This is an epidemic that strikes at the core of what it means to be human. Followers of Jesus believe that we are made in the image of the trinitarian God. God has never lived in isolation. For eternity past and for eternity future, he exists in perfect harmonious relationship with himself. And so humans are created to be in relationship too. For five days, as God created the vast and marvelous reaches of his universe, he declared each new creative step to be “good.” Only one thing was “not good” and that was man in isolation. This is why every prison warden in human history — from Auschwitz to Hunstville — knows that the most severe form of punishment is solitary confinement. We are a herd species, created by a communal God to live in community. How tragic that our country has chosen to forego community apace with abandoning God. 

Why is that? How did we get here? And what’s the solution? 

The cause is complicated: individualism, capitalism, immigration, low population density that allows us to sprawl instead of assimilate. All of these and more are factors that contribute to our isolation. 

But the solution is entirely moral. It must come from our gut. The only thing that will overcome our nation’s most common malady is the courage to reach out, to renounce suspicion, to love our neighbors. The government can’t connect us in meaningful ways. Education won’t build greater trust. Only neighbors can love neighbors. 

In my neighborhood there’s a lady who lives alone. The weeds outside her door are high, and so is the cat population inside. Our family has taken to calling her “Lonely Lisa.” And this week we invited her to our Super Bowl party. Because if Lonely Lisa gets sick, who will know? And if Lonely Lisa’s isolation leads to mental illness or violent tendencies, I will count it a failure of my calling as a Christian, and another step backward for a nation who used to answer to the same label. The less connected we are to our neighbors, the less healthy we are, the less safe we are, and the less Christian we are.

We Recommend Reading Next: