Loneliness. Knowing everyone and being unknown. 

I’ve always been a fan of honesty. I wrote a book with the word honest on the cover. I thought I was being clever when I came up with that, imagining that what I had written was intelligent and controversial. I imagine myself eyeing down the equally shocked and amazed critics and shrugging, ‘I’m just being honest,’ I say wrly. I was a lot younger then and realise now that this sort of thinking is based on arrogant delusion of grandeur and an over active imagination. 

If I had actually been clever I’d have realised that being honest is actually one of the most transformative and profound decisions we can take. Being honest about who we are and who we are not, what we believe and what we do not, what we’ve done and we have not is both liberating as it can be terrifying. These last few days I’ve experienced both in double measure. I’ve felt another weight lifted from my hands that I was afraid to let go of. 

For the first time in months, just over a year, I feel known. Honesty is a wonderful catharsis. 

We are sold A lie everyday, that is, that Facebook friends and likes, retweets and followers are real things and very important. Underpinning this phenomenon is the idea that popularity, measured in numbers, is what makes us feel valued. The idea that the higher the number of connections we make, the less alone we will feel, is silently creeping around society. 

I read an article a little while ago that said that the current stage of evolution of social media is detrimental to the mental health of many people. This isn’t just because of a bombardment of newsworthy tragedy and political argument but also due to the illusion it causes that we know many more people as friends than we actually do. Most of my social media contacts are acquaintances whom I know a strange collection of details about, they aren’t friends as such. 

Does this illusion of friendship amplify a sense of lonlieness? We have all these easily contactable  friends, yet few people call. We see the lives of others play out on our phones whilst we feel isolated and forgotten. Of course the previous two sentences are perhaps overstatements or worst case scenarios, but the principle stands. We’ve bought the lie that knowing many people will combat our loneliness. The truth is that loneliness is defeated by becoming known and that only comes with risk. Being known comes with the risk of being honest about struggles and fears, dreams and ambitions. We defeat loneliness when we tell someone about the thing that we are ashamed of anyone knowing, that invisibly hovers between us and meaningful connection. 

Many of us are lonely in a crowd but we carry that crowd in our pockets. We scroll and scroll through the pictures and posts of the crowd we are in and make little connection beyond a thumbs up or a like. 

The beauty is that when someone takes a risk to be known often that risk is multiplied. When one looks across a table in a coffee shop and says, ‘can I be honest about something?’ most often that honesty is reciprocated. If we open ourselves up to another often they open themselves up to us.

The church has an opportunity to become communities of real connection. Our small groups can move beyond Bible studies to safe places for honesty and confession. Our preachers can portray vulnerability to encourage it in others. More of our songs can include struggle and lament amongst triumph and celebration. We can embrace doubt as a real life experience and listen to those who carry it without deeming them weak.

We can create in our churches, a culture of knowing and of being known, but it has to start somewhere. Someone has to take the risk first. If you are lonely or if you just want to fight for those who are, call someone, arrange a coffee, text or visit, and tell them who you really are. Look them in the eye and be honest. It’s s risk worth taking. 

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