“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God”(2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
One of the greatest ironies of the human experience in the twenty-first century is that in the time of our greatest technological connectivity, feelings of isolation and loneliness are becoming more and more universal. In other words, we are together in our loneliness.
I have for a long time loved this passage from 2 Corinthians. It tells me that my own personal pain points can become connecting points with others who may be suffering quietly behind a façade of contentment. We are all well-schooled in wearing such masks since we learn at an early age that sharing our problems might make us too costly a friend to keep. No wonder that when someone commits suicide, even their closest friends are surprised and didn’t see it coming. As a safety specialist, I learned that a choking person will at times actually run out of a room when they can’t breathe to avoid embarrassment. Sometimes that act of self-consciousness costs them their lives. People do the same thing with their troubled thoughts and emotions. We’re subtly taught not to let others see us bleed, and so we suffer in silence.
So, where can the hurting find help if we, the Church, are not on the lookout? Doesn’t our assignment to be ambassadors for Christ include offering comfort to the hurting? Shouldn’t we be as willing to listen as to evangelize? Is our willingness to make an investment in another human being so shallow that we can only afford to interact with them if they are willing to abandon their worldview for ours on the spot? Shouldn’t we be willing to make a friend before attempting to make a convert?
Human interaction can be difficult at times, especially in this cultural moment where people are so easily offended, and political correctness keeps changing the rules on what is acceptable speech. It’s simply easier to avoid the risk and stay in the safety of our isolation, wearing our headphones in public and keeping our noses in our devices. There are few if any public spots where Wi-Fi connections aren’t available to keep us connected at a distance, free from the messy and difficult personal interactions that actually produce real and meaningful relationships. What Henry David Thoreau said, that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” is surely truer today than ever, and yet, in our private sorrow we can offer a public comfort when we share out of the riches of our own lives the lessons in overcoming that we have learned in our own desperate moments at the feet of the Master.
We must risk stepping up and speaking out. We must learn again to look people in the eye and offer a handshake. We’re surprisingly out of practice. It will feel awkward, particularly in those unrehearsed occasions in which spontaneity exposes our lack of polish. That’s ok, a drowning man doesn’t care about the eloquence of the man who is throwing him a life preserver. It’s worth the risk. You might save a life, make someone’s day, or even make a friend.