Most of us don’t like reality shows in general, but make exceptions for the particular one that we are watching. It’s kinda like how we say we don’t eat at McDonald’s, except for specific reasons: breakfast, french fries, coffee, large drinks, ice cream--when the machine works, play area, bathrooms on trips, and whatever other excuse we feel we need to justify our many jaunts into the most successful restaurant in the history of the planet.
Having that out of the way, I’ll go and confess I’ve been hooked on the reality show Alone. Ten contestants get their own plot in the arctic to see how long they can last. They use ten items they are permitted to bring to build their shelter, shoot or capture their protein, start fires, and see how long they can survive. If anyone manages to last 100 days they win a million dollars.
I’m not sure what has drawn me to the show. I don’t hunt, fish, camp, or build things. Forget building my own shelter, I’m intimidated by replacing the string in my weed eater. Also, I’m an extrovert who gets energy from being around others. If I were on the show I’d survive for about six hours until I surveyed my property enough to confirm that there were no other humans, Wi-FI, shower, or Starbucks.
As Alone implies, the hardest part of the show is not the physical survival; it’s the psychological aspect. Sure, contestants run out of food and get cold and grow tired. But that’s not what forces them to tap out. What plagues them is the deep sense of loneliness. It’s a loneliness that lacks companionship, that feels distant to loved ones, that even misses the help with basic human survival like hunting, gathering, chopping wood, and heating water. While I love watching the contestants stretch themselves to survive, I can’t help but recall God’s earliest criticism in Scripture, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). This is true. Women might be better off alone, however (in Season 7 the female contestants outperform the males).
A 2018 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation report suggested that 22% of American adults felt lonely much of the time. Insurance giant Cigna put their estimate as high as 60%. This means that more than half of adults experience an underwhelming amount of social engagement. Some doctors say chronic loneliness is equal to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. This was long before a pandemic shut down the entire world and the idea of social distancing entered the American vernacular.
The New Testament envisions a church where nobody should be alone. The images for the church include bride (Rev. 21:9), body (Eph. 1:22-23), family (Eph. 3:15), and flock (1 Pet. 5:2). God puts people in our lives to celebrate victories, grieve failures, and mourn disappointments. Having people around us does not always make life easier, but being alone makes it nearly impossible.
This has been an incredibly difficult time for those who are lonely. It’s a perfect time to reach out.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4).