Undoing Aloneness: Meaningful Friendships During COVID-19

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

Can I confess something during these uncertain days? I need the help and safety of friends! Especially when I feel and pay attention to others’ stress-filled, sad, scary, and frustrating lives. I need true and authentic friendships to help me endure and stay resilient during this COVID-19 season. Our world has been turned upside down with this global Pandemic.  Our normal routines have been disrupted. Nothing feels the same anymore; a lot has changed. Reality is what it is, and I am learning whatever it is is the teacher if I slow down to listen, learn, and love this present moment with purpose and without my internal prosecutor accusing me with the shame of not being enough, the anxiety to rehearse the “what if’s”, and guilt that I should be hustling more. 

All that to say, this social distancing and quarantining measures we’ve implemented can feel very isolating and just plain lonely.  Yes, the loneliness that lingers, follows you and weighs you down. I feel it and I know everyone unconsciously around me feels it, but is anyone willing to share this explicative with me, “Man, I feel alone!”? If there is anything that this COVID-19 has blown open, it is this deep, unexpressed, and unwilled loneliness we all feel. It is loneliness without a face, a loneliness that crawls up and through our skin and we are allergic to it. WE DON’T LIKE IT AND WE DON’T WANT IT.    

Do you know it was God who first recognized this aloneness, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)? Now, this is not just a statement about marriage, but more broadly,  it speaks about humanity and our need for help. In other words, human beings are made for relationships and there is nothing wrong about needing another human being because God designed it to be as such. There is something profound in God’s statement in Genesis 2:18 that disrupts the cadence of Genesis 1 where we read God’s statements of all created things being good. And then all of sudden, God remarkably asserts that it is not good for man to be alone!  Whoa! That’s a statement to which human history should pay attention!

God speaks and declares that it is not good for Adam to be alone and so it applies to us as well. As spectacular as the blue, big skies are of a Jackson Hole, WY, the plentiful acreage of rice fields in the Philippines, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the vast oceans of the Pacific and Atlantic, the beautiful wildlife in Africa, all the Steve Jobs/Bill Gates/Elon Musks technological advances, and all FB/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat/Tik-Tok outlets, it is still not enough to satisfy humanity’s aloneness.  Let me point out that Genesis 2:18 is before Genesis 3, the Fall, where man and woman sinned and distrusted God’s Goodness. So, if you are feeling lonely today, there is nothing inherently wrong or deficient about you, there is actually everything right about you because it is the red dashboard light of your life highlighting that you need to connect with friends. The constriction in your throat, heaviness on your chest, and knots in your stomach signals that you are wired and created for human friendships. You need the face, smile, voice, touch, and ear of another just like you need food, shelter, and oxygen in order to survive in God’s beautiful universe. Relationships are not luxury items. Friendships are not options or add ons. But every human connection is vital for flourishing in God’s kingdom. Especially in this present, cultural moment, we all are facing today. We need life-giving friends to help us feel we intimately belong. 

What is it about the presence of another human being that is fulfilling healing, good, truthful and beautiful?  Here is what I’ve learned and reflected on so far: to the degree that James Santos, is willing to be known by friends in my griefs, joys, strengths, weaknesses, giftedness, imperfections, love, and shame is to the same degree in which I then become known to myself and God. It is really hard to know myself and God until I see myself in somebody’s face and eyes and feel felt and valued that I exist in their minds, hearts, and bodies!

When I can show up and be known with safe friends in my laments and longings, my soul relaxes and everything becomes ok even if everything around me does not feel ok.  To lament over the continued spread of the Covid-19, the unemployed, the sick and vulnerable, the chaos in the world, the frazzled and frenzied souls , the struggling, the suffering, the broken relationships, the shallow platitudes, the injustices, those demonizing and villainizing, the sinfulness, brokenness, woundedness, and death, and to long for resurrection, peace, salvation, Spirit-led love, hope, flourishing, heaven on earth, eternal Life, rest, whole-heartedness, God’s goodness to cover the world as the waters cover the seas, Jesus to come again, and see every sad, scary, and frustrating stories made untrue! 

To allow yourself to feel the need of a friend is to feel human, and a desire for friendships is to acknowledge what God Himself acknowledged in Eden. And just like Jesus inviting his friends Peter, James, and John to pray with him at the Garden of Gethsemane. To be human is to desire another human. To go far in life is never to go alone but to always go together. To have friends is to feel alive, and to be seen and feel felt and valued by another is one the greatest gifts to experience. To be fully known by another is to be fully loved. You want this! You long for this!

Ask Jesus in prayer to teach you to listen, learn, and love as He would do it if He were in your shoes. Allow those names and faces of friends to populate in your mind. Text, call, email, Zoom, Marco-Polo, FaceTime, hand write, exercise, or ask to walk (you know 6-part feet apart). When you connect with a friend, begin to notice what comes forth in thoughts, emotions, words, images, and ideas that you did not realize you had the space. Receive in your heart what you did not realize you had the capacity. Reflect further what lingers in your body as you leave each other’s presence and encounter. 

Look out for the friends during this Coronavirus season. Discover new Sojourners during these wilderness like, exiled days, and be surprised.  You will always find safe friends who are extending help!

James Santos, M.Div., provides pastoral care for individuals and families seeking spiritual direction and support/care through hard times or loss. James specializes in the area of grief and loss and is also able to provide pastoral care and counsel for a broad variety of life struggles.

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