Updated: Oct 1, 2021
I have been thinking about loneliness lately. Maybe the restrictions of Covid has left me feeling a bit isolated. It reminds me of the time we moved from South Africa to Mozambique because that was also a period where I felt alone.
In 2000 Fili and I moved from my home country in South Africa to Mozambique. We moved there because we were called to serve God at the Seminario Nazareno em Mozambique. Unfortunately, there was no teacher housing at the Seminario at that time, so we moved into one of the apartments for married students.
My husband, Fili started working immediately. He literally taught the whole day, residential students during the day and evening classes for part-time students. I could not work at the Seminario because I did not speak Portuguese. As a matter of fact, I could not communicate with anyone at the school. So I spent my time taking care of our daughter, Tsakani, who was 8 months old at the time, learning Portuguese and watching Portuguese programs. I never felt so alone in my life. This was before face time and skype, so it was difficult to stay in touch with my friends and family in South Africa.
One evening I was all by myself again. I watched Tsaki play on the carpet, the television in the background, when there was a knock on my door. I wondered who would come and see me this time of the evening? It was one of the student's wives, Maria. She stood there with her baby boy on her hip and a broad smile on her face. She said: "venho brincar," I was confused. I had to get my little Portuguese dictionary to make sense of what she was saying. Finally, I realised she was saying: "I have come to play with you." This was a bit strange for me because, in South Africa, adults don't meet to play. But Maria seemed determined to come and spend some time with me. So, she came in, I offered her some tea, and she sat on my couch. We could not chat because we did not understand each other. Sometimes we tried to use hand gestures. Finally, we just sat side by side on my couch, watching our children play together while we watched Brazilian TV shows. She came every night for the next few nights. I found myself looking forward to her visits.
Maria and I came from different worlds. She spoke Portuguese, came from rural Mozambique, only had a primary school education. I was a teacher from the cities of Johannesburg who spoke English and Afrikaans. But we had a connection. We were both mothers, we were both lonely, and we both needed a friend. Maria might never know what she did for me during that time, but her presence was a great comfort to me. She helped me learn Portuguese and introduced me to the rest of the ladies in the students housing. She showed me the love of Jesus.
Maria was present for me, she could not communicate with me, but her presence made me feel better, more human, loved. Presence can be so comforting.
Maria made herself vulnerable. She chose to come to my home and offer her friendship. She did not know how I would react. I could have rejected her, but she came to me anyway. Vulnerability is uncomfortable. It opens up the possibility of getting hurt. But it is impossible to connect with others if we refuse to be vulnerable or uncomfortable for a little while. When we choose vulnerability, we can: Ask for help, empathise with others and have better connections.
Maria exemplified the love of Christ to me.
Did you know that your brain interprets emotional pain and physical pain in the same manner? This is a defence mechanism because it was dangerous for humans to be alone in ancient times. Human beings depended on each other for survival, food, and protection from wild beasts. So, the brain developed a system to avoid isolation. As a result, we actually feel real pain when we are lonely. This pain motivates us to reach out to others and thus ensure our survival as a species.
Today, loneliness has become an epidemic. Researchers found that loneliness can lead to heart disease, dementia and reduced life expectancy. Researches have also found that loneliness is more acute in the teenage years and in the senior years of life. Life in the community is essential for well-being.
The Benefits of Community according to the Teacher in Ecc 4:7-12.
We can achieve more. Or to use the words of the Teacher, we will get a good reward for our hard work when we join forces. The saying: many hands make light work is accurate. We will have a more significant profit for our labour and a more satisfying outcome to all our efforts when we join forces.
We can help each other up. We can keep each other warm and meet each other's needs. The Teacher says he pities the person who falls down, and there is no one to help her up. This is really a sad situation. Falling down is a part of life. Jesus himself said: "in this world, you will have trouble, but be of good cheer because I have overcome the world" John 16:33. One of the ways Jesus helps us to overcome difficult times is by giving us the family of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to help us up when we fall down.
We overcome together. We will not be overpowered or broken when we remain united in Christ because a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. We are stronger together. We must remember that we have a mutual enemy, the devil. The enemy is not our brothers and sisters. But we are more than conquerors in Christ because we stand together, fight for each other, defend each other, and help each other up when we fall. We are the body of Christ.
One of my favourite scriptures is Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there, the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
How do you make sure that you remain connected to others?