Overcoming Loneliness: Strength in Community
Social scientists tell us that 70% of happiness is the byproduct of relationships, yet a lot of us look in a lot of different places for happiness. We will often look at money, thinking that might solve all our problems. Or we look at a job or a hobby or an accomplishment, if we could do this or be there, that somehow that would change our life. The essence of life, what it really boils down to, is relationships with God and others.
I was reading a book by Alan Deutschman called Change or Die and in the book he sites a study published by the Justice Department in 2002 that tracked 272,111 inmates after they were released from state prisons in 15 states. It’s the largest study of its kind ever done. Honestly, the findings were discouraging because they found that 30% of former inmates were re-arrested within six months, and two-thirds were re-arrested within three years. Something is not working. With that as a backdrop, consider this. One of the chapters Deutschman devotes to a non-profit called The Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco. It is a halfway house of sorts, about 500 inmates that live together, their own community, and essentially, Delancey helps these prisoners complete their high school education, and they all learn three marketable skills and they use them in the business that Delancey has started. They have the top-rated moving company in the Bay area, they run an upscale restaurant, a bookstore café and a print shop, among other businesses. Here’s what’s amazing. While taxpayers are spending about $40,000 a year supporting a single prison inmate, Delancey is self-supporting on the profit it makes from its businesses. It has never taken money from the government.
Not every inmate makes it, but after staying at Delancey for four years, 60% of these former inmates go on to lead productive lives as law-abiding citizens. So in the justice system, we’re losing about two-thirds, Delancey’s ex-cons have about six out of ten turn out good. So really the $64,000 question is what are they doing? There are a lot of factors. The education piece, teaching skills, but here’s what was absolutely fascinating to me – all the inmates are put into a small group! Small groups made up of ten with their fellow inmates! It is not a hierarchical system, they are accountable to each other, and they also teach each other. They have this motto: Each one teach one. So if you can read on a 6th grade level, you’re probably going to teach someone who can read on a 4th grade level and learn from someone who can read on an 8th grade level. And the groups meet three times a week. It is actually based on minions. It’s a Jewish tradition that ten members of the congregation may join together and hold a prayer service without the leadership of a formally educated or ordained rabbi. That was the inspiration for it. So, they are in these small groups, they live together, they learn together, they work together and after studying Delancey, this is the conclusion that Alan Deutschman comes to – changing your own life often means changing your community.
Most of us think that we need to break old habits and create new habits, and that is certainly one way that we experience change. However, he says that really, if you look at it, you’re probably going to have to sever some old relationships and create some new relationships if you really want to experience lasting change in your life. You’ve got to surround yourself with the right people. So that’s what Delancey has done, created a new community. I think what I’m trying to get at is this – small groups are important. It doesn’t matter whether you are an inmate or a roommate or a mate, what matters is that you have got to be intentional about putting yourself in the right communities, having the right relationships.
A relationship with Christ is not a solo flight. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus surrounded Himself with 12 disciples? Doing life together, ministry together. That is why we put so much time and energy into this. For some of you, you are lonely, and it is so hard taking that first step. You might have to be proactive in finding a small group, and it might take a couple of weeks, but if you really can muster up the courage, I believe you will find some new relationships that will make a huge difference in your life. I pray that you would come out of that prison of loneliness and surround yourself. Yes, it takes a measure of courage to connect with others, but you need to surround yourself with a group of friends and it will help you grow spiritually.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV
From “Overcoming Loneliness, Negativity and Greed” by Pastor Mark Batterson