I used to worry that life on the mission field would be lonely. No doubt, it will be in many ways - language, culture and experience are potentially enormous barriers to intimacy. Recently, however, I have seen with fresh eyes the isolationism that has begun to creep into our interactions here in America. Strangely, God is using this understanding to loosen my grip on my life here in the States.
The majority of my close friends in Rochester have moved or are in the process of moving elsewhere to pursue career opportunities. My friends outside of Rochester have become increasingly occupied with very good, very important projects and relationships. This busyness, however, translates to an obvious distance that is more than geographic in nature. I could count on one hand the number of conversations via text, email, or phone I have had in the past six months that were initiated by others. This situation is not unique to me; I have heard similar sentiments in response whenever I make this observation. Our society and manner of living are not conducive to connectivity.
In part, this may be due to our reliance on social media to let others know the major happenings of our lives, and to keep up with the events and people in theirs. Yet this low cost investment yields little in the realm of relational benefit. We are surrounded by stories and pictures and snippets of the lives of people we love, yet we are isolated from them. Clearly, information alone is insufficient to grow relationships.
The root of the problem is likely far deeper than a mere deterioration of communication. The way we live and advertise our lives makes actually "doing life" together challenging, if not impossible. How can we truly identify with people we are constantly trying to amuse or impress? More importantly, how do we strengthen bonds with others we don't take the time to truly serve?
These are hard questions, and I do not have trite answers. But this uncertainty does not stop me from asking such things of myself and those I love. Are we willing to do the hard work of relationship? Our schedules and flimsy attempts at connecting with others suggest we are not. This is a frightening and humbling realization.
True interaction may in fact be easier in a developing nation, where there is less opportunity for the pretense of artificial intimacy. Of course, my lack of long term experience abroad makes this possibility mere speculation.
Most importantly, I want to be prayerful about how and where I invest my affections. Too often, I become wrapped up in non-eternal issues and do not love others as I ought. The answer to this tendency is to look at the cross. Jesus was the ultimate friend. He gave His life for others, so we could spend eternity with God. Such a powerful and beautiful example of what human connectivity should be.