Modern life is increasingly an experience of being alone. Modern social media has supplanted face-to-face interaction with online interaction, alone in front of a computer screen or smartphone. Our friends who used to call, now just post on Facebook or some other social media site. It’s easier, and it still feels to them like sharing. But it’s not personalized anymore, it’s not individualized. There is no more call that reminds us that we are important enough to them that they want to reach out to us personally, there is just a post, for any “Facebook friend” to see.
As we watch others’ posts online, we ask ourselves: are we really included? An online post seems like a sort of showing off: “Look at me, everybody, look at how together I am!” But this, too, makes us feel alone: we know we ourselves don’t really “have it together”. Because of this, these posts often make us feel less rather than more connected to the poster. We sometimes forget that posting is a matter of putting our “best foot forward”: we forget that our friends and family don’t “have it together” any more than we do, they just post their best moments, not their average ones. We, too, post only our best moments. and we, too, unintentionally feed the “aloneness” plague.
Social media also feeds rudeness. Commenting on social media doesn’t seem like conversation, it seems more like analysis, where it can be tempting to critique, so sometimes we say things in a far ruder and unkind way than we would say to a person’s face. Others, so-called internet trolls, say unkind things deliberately, in order to provoke a reactions, or to punish people for saying things they dislike. When trolls are plentiful, their rudeness becomes normalized: ordinary people turn into trolls too. At the breakneck speed of the internet, all these rude and unkind things said to someone on social media are there on the smartphone screen, right in the person’s face. There are few things more lonely than to feel exposed, all by yourself, to the scathing and unforgiving taunts of an angry mob.
Jesus, too, felt alone. On the first Good Friday, he was betrayed and abandoned by his friends, dragged before an angry crowd, framed and condemned, taunted and mocked, tortured and killed, messily, awkwardly, all very much in public. He knew beforehand that this terrible and lonely experience was coming, and tried to prepare his apostles:
Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. [John 16:32a]
Jesus tried to prepare himself, too. When he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died, in great fear of his upcoming suffering, he asked his friends to stay and watch with him so that he would not have to be alone. But they fell asleep instead [Luke 22:45]. When Jesus’ enemies came to arrest him, led by someone who had been Jesus’ friend, all of Jesus’ remaining friends ran away, leaving him alone [Mark 14:50].
With no friend by his side, with nobody to speak in his defense, Jesus was unjustly condemned to death, and was executed, slowly, painfully, and publicly, by crucifixion. Early on Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, and he is living and active today. Yet through all this, Jesus was not completely alone. He told his disciples:
Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. [John 16:32b]
Jesus, knowing how important it is not to be left alone, himself promised to be with us always:
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:20b]
Indeed, Jesus is with us today, unseen through the Holy Spirit, present with us in our joys and our troubles, and also in our loneliness. When we are feeling alone, we should remember that we can reach out to Jesus who is there with us. He knows what it feels like: he will be with us even when nobody else is.
Knowing that loneliness can be difficult, we, too, can be there for others, by being with them (in person, on the phone, or online) when they feel alone. A kind word, a sympathetic ear, an expression of solidarity and of caring, can go a long way in a lonely world. In being there for others when they feel alone, we are loving like Jesus does. We need not succumb to the feeling of loneliness that modern life gives us: Jesus is present with us, and he shows us how to be with each other, so that we do not have to be alone.
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