The Deep Well with Erin Davis Podcast

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Episode 1: A Pandemic of Loneliness

Season:  Connected   Buy

Laura Booz: Well, Erin, everybody knows what it’s like to feel lonely. 

Erin Davis: Yes, I think everybody does, and for many of us, those lonely feelings begin when we’re really little.

Laura: No kidding! I have a story way back from elementary school. It was the middle of the year and a new girl showed up in our class. So I thought I would reach out to her and be friendly. I didn’t want her feeling alone at recess, so I asked her if she wanted to play.

There we were walking around the playground, and I asked her how things were going. She must not have remembered my name, because she said, “Well, all I know is that the other kids told me not to play with a girl named Laura.”

Erin: As in you, Laura!?

Laura: As in me! I didn’t want to tell her, “That’s me.” So I just looked around the playground wondering, Who told her this? And now what am I going to do? I’d never felt so alone!

Erin: You probably were questioning every friendship at that moment—who did say that and why did they single you out? My heart hurts for you just hearing that story!

Laura: Yes, I know! But the truth is, I still feel that as an adult. There are times I will walk into a group of even my closest friends, and I still have that little quake inside and wonder, Do I belong here? Do they really want me?

Erin: I’m so glad we’re saying that out loud, because I think we all have those times where we feel that. We think it must be true, it must be a “me issue,” when really, it’s systemic because of our hearts and because of our brokenness and because we struggle to connect as God intended us to.

There’s some real freedom just in saying, “I feel that way still. I feel that way often. I sometimes feel that way, too,” so we know it’s not just us.

Laura: Welcome to The Deep Wellwith Erin Davis. It’s a podcast from Revive Our Hearts. I’m Laura Booz. Over the next episodes, we’re going to get together to address the problem of loneliness, and more importantly, we’ll dig into the solution the Bible provides. Here’s Erin.

Erin: Several years ago I wrote a book on loneliness called Connected. I’m going to tell you a little bit more about why in a minute, but first I need to tell you the subtitle: Curing the Pandemic of Everyone Feeling Alone Together.

I’m recording this season of The Deep Well in the winter of 2021, and the word “pandemic” represents a very real and a very difficult season of struggle that the whole world is going through. Whether you’re listening to these words in 2021, as the pandemic continues to claim thousands of lives every day and we’re still pretty off-kilter, or you’re listening to it years after 2021—in 2041 or 2051—the imprint of that pandemic will remain on our relationships for a very long time. 

So this idea of everyone feeling alone together, it’s visceral for us right now, isn’t it? We’re living it every day!

We have these terms like “shelter at home” and “quarantine” and “social distancing” that are now part of our collective human experience. So while I wrote that book several years ago, we all now know what it’s like to feel alone together. 

But what we need to know is how to find our way back to each other! We need to know how to live beyond shallow, socially distant relationships and live connected with one another in the ways that God intended. God, the Creator of You, the Creator of me, God the Creator of relationships, how does He intend for us to live? 

So . . . back to the reason I wrote a book on loneliness. I can’t tell you how many people—my friends, my family—have said to me, “I’m so sorry that you wrote a book on loneliness!” That’s been jarring for them, that that is a part of my heart. But it’s a part of theirs, too.

You should know that I’m almost never, ever alone. I got married very young, in my early twenties. I moved straight from my parents’ house to a dorm filled with people. Then I moved straight from a dorm filled with people to an apartment filled with people. Then moved straight from that apartment filled with people to married life.

Soon enough we had our first son, and then we had our second son, and then we had our third son, and then we had our fourth son! And so, solitude is not where God’s plan for my life breaks down. In fact, I sometimes fantasize about being alone for just fifteen minutes. Okay . . . just five minutes would be a gift!

So solitude is not what I’m talking about. But loneliness, on the other hand, is a really familiar companion. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as lonely; maybe you wouldn’t think of me as lonely, either, if you spent some time with me. In fact, you can find my face (I was Erin Thomason back then) in the superlatives part of my yearbook as “most outgoing.”

I’m a gatherer of people. There is not a shy bone in my body! But . . . loneliness . . . you can’t tell if somebody’s lonely by looking at their calendar. You can’t tell if somebody’s lonely by assessing their temperament. 

You can’t tell if somebody’s lonely by one of those personality tests that we all like so much. Loneliness is a heart condition and therefore, because it is a heart condition, it is an area where we need God to work, because only God can create true, lasting heart change in each of us.

I’m so grateful to report that this area of loneliness and relationships, connection and disconnection, is an area where He has created true heart change in me. I often joke that I’m going to write a follow-up book to Connected to talk about how I’m not lonely anymore! 

But here’s how I knew that I knew I needed God to change my heart in this area of loneliness and relationships. I call it the “seismic shift.” My husband had been on staff at a church for several years, and if you are involved in your church—and certainly if you’re a staff member at church—you know that church life is a very busy life.

We had lots and lots of things to do; we had lots and lots of people in our lives. I had lots of emails in my inbox; I had lots of phone calls. By all appearances I seemed very well-connected. And here’s Loneliness Lesson #1: When it comes to loneliness, appearances are often deceiving.

I allowed busyness to blind me to the true condition of my life, of my relationships. And then, the earth felt like it shifted underneath my feet. My husband, Jason, took a new job, and that job was in a different state, but he could work from home.

So we stayed in our same town; we stayed in our same little yellow house, but we left our church. And that’s because he was on staff at church, and we wanted to leave room for his replacement to be successful. (There was no big church stink.) We assumed that our relationships would stay intact, and they didn’t.

We went from having every day and every evening and every weekend full of people and things to do; it was like somebody pulled a massive emergency brake, and there was just nothing going on. There is no blame to place here. 

That was a good church, full of good people. But I believe that what I experienced is symptomatic of the way many of us live. We’ve got a lot of friends, we’ve got a full schedule . . . and we’ve got an ache in our hearts. There’s an illusion of connectedness to the people around us, and it’s accompanied by this gnawing fear that we are somehow alone in the world.

I was talking about all of this with a friend of mine who is a pastor’s wife. She said, “I like the people at my church; they like me, but we’re just not really connected.” This isn’t just an Erin problem. It’s not just something that pastors’ wives experience. It’s something that all of us are susceptible to.

One survey of regular church attenders (these are people who go to church every Sunday or almost every Sunday) asks some questions about our relationships within the church. More than a quarter of them agreed with this statement: “Church feels like a group of people sharing the same space in a public event, but who are not connected in any real way.”

Picture your own church for a minute. Imagine the people in the pews. Maybe, if you’re like me, there are people that you see every Sunday, and you don’t know their names, but you smile at each other. Then imagine that a fourth of the people in your church, maybe you included, would say, “Yeah, we’re all here in this space together, but were not really connected.”

For at least a quarter of us, church feels more like going to a football game than anything else. The stadium is packed, we’re surrounded by people who want the same thing, but at the end of the day—at the end of every single Sunday, if we’re not careful—we go back to our lonely lives, with the sense that we could never tell each other what’s really going on, that we’re not really connected. 

This is not God’s plan. It’s not God’s plan for our relationships—especially for our relationships with each other in the church. We are to be bound together in Christ! One in Him, can’t separate us from each other, we’re so well-connected.

So for me that seismic shift that happened so many years ago was the realization not about the people in my church and what they had or had not done. It was a realization of my own heart. I had settled for a mirage. I had chosen to keep my relationships on the surface because that’s just easier. It requires less of me. I can stay in the shallow waters. It’s more comfortable than going deep in my relationships.

And once the convenience factor was removed, those relationships, though amicable, they just ceased to exist. It was during that season where I was really, really wrestling with all of this, that I was scheduled to speak at an event in Nashville.

I can’t remember the original topic that was assigned to me or what I planned to teach on; the memory of that has faded over time. But this memory has not: I stood on a stage, several hundred people in the audience, and I bawled! 

I just cried and cried and cried, which is not like me. I took a friend with me, and she later told me that she gripped the edge of her seat and thought, Erin is losing it! What is she doing?! She had never seen me unravel. This is one of my closest friends, and she’d never seen me lose it. 

There’s a loneliness lesson in there, too. If the people in your inner circle have never watched your heart break, your mask is glued on too tightly. I essentially said, “I’m lonely,” and I cried a lot. It was not one of my best teaching moments . . . except for . . . maybe it was! The Lord used it really profoundly!

I don’t know what possessed me to say this, but I said, “Would any of you in this room full of women stand up if you’re lonely, too?” I get choked up a little bit at the memory, because one by one these women stood until almost all of them were standing. I was doing the ugly cry, and they were doing the ugly cry. 

We weren’t spackling over anything all of a sudden. We were standing up in this room saying, “We’re lonely.” It was hundreds of women. There were all different ages; they were in all different seasons of life. They were in a room packed with other women. Most of them had come to this conference together.

So imagine that. You come to a conference in a van with the women you’re supposed to be closest with, and then when someone asks if you’re lonely, you stand up. Maybe there was just a piece of their heart that nobody had ever jiggled the lock on before . . . and I did. I just said, “I’m lonely. Are you lonely?” And they were.

I stood in line and counseled women after that session for hours. I didn’t have anything to say to them. We just looked each other in the eyes and said, “We love Jesus . . . and we’re lonely.” There was this one woman, she was obviously very uncomfortable. She said, “I never talk to the speaker. I feel so weird about this!”

I was like, “Listen! You just stood and watched me bawl in front of everyone! There’s no pretense here.” 

And she just slid me this little note. I prayed with her. Hours later I got back to my hotel room, I opened that note, and here’s what it said: “I’m lonely, too.” It was so sweet.

Suddenly, I felt like a scientist. I made this alarming discovery through the microscope of my own life. I found a different kind of pandemic, a pandemic of loneliness among Christian women who seem to have it all together.

This is a pattern in my life: I’m not often willing to fight for God’s truth for my own life, but I will fight to the death of it for you. I wanted to do something about it. 

So, what’s loneliness? I define it this way: It’s the sense that no one really knows you or understands you.

One woman I interviewed said, “Loneliness is knowing people aren’t thinking about me.” I appreciate her honesty. We know that people aren’t always thinking about us. And as we walk the path of humility to be like Jesus, we don’t even really want everybody thinking about us all of the time. But we do want somebody thinking about us some of the time.

So when I say loneliness, I’m talking about the feeling that you have to face the rough edges of life—of which there are many—alone, untethered. Do we all feel that way? Is that just the ache of being humans? According to God’s Word, no, it doesn’t have to be.

So here’s why all of this matters. The medical community is starting to study the impact of chronic loneliness, and they’ve made some interesting discoveries. The optics have changed a little bit. Senior citizens used to be our loneliest demographic, and that makes some sense. But that’s not true anymore.

Sociologists are very alarmed by how lonely teenagers and young adults have become. Never in history have teenagers and young adults been among our loneliest populations, but they are now. Something has shifted.

They’re also discovering that loneliness affects our bodies. We think of this as an emotion or a circumstance. Scientists are saying, actually, something is happening in your body when you are lonely. We have an increased level of cortisol; that’s a stress hormone. We have decreased levels of immunity.

So think of that in the context of the pandemic that we’re currently in. We’re lonely, and our ability to fight off disease is down. Loneliness leads to a faster progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

If you’ve ever loved someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you’ve watched this in real time, because the disease isolates them and the isolation accelerates the disease. Loneliness leads to an impaired ability to regulate behavior. So we’re lonely and then we make bad decisions, and then those bad decisions keep us lonely. You’re seeing how this cycle is so dangerous!

  • We have a much greater predisposition to depression and substance abuse if we’re lonely. 
  • We have a much higher risk of suicide. 
  • We get insomnia when we’re lonely; we can’t sleep. 

So loneliness is not just an emotion, it’s not just a circumstance. In fact, loneliness works in the case of our bodies like a disease. It attacks us at the cell level.

So The Deep Well is a Bible teaching podcast. I’m not your medical expert, and I’m not your resident sociologist. But one of the things I love about the Bible is that for every area of ache, every area where we miss God’s best, every part of our lives and our society where sin causes a breakdown, God’s Word has something to say.

I believe the church of God’s people living differently, living connected holds the only “vaccine” to our lonely problem. God offers hope for the lonely in His Word. There is another way. Over the next several episodes we’re going to open our Bibles and discover the cure together.

Laura: Erin Davis has been diagnosing a problem we all understand. I’m excited to explore the biblical solution for loneliness in the rest of this season of The Deep Well. Erin’s teaching is based on her book Connected: Curing the Pandemic of Everyone Feeling Alone Together. 

As Erin was diagnosing the problem of loneliness, maybe you were thinking, Yes, that’s how I feel! If so, I hope you’ll get a copy of the book Connected. You can get a copy of the book by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com/TheDeepWell.

Erin Unscripted

Laura: Hey, Erin, I know everyone can relate in some way, so let’s go back. Talk to me when I was a little girl back on that playground feeling so alone. 

Erin: Well, if I was big me and not the little girl me, I’d drop down right on my knees to be at eye level with you, because there is something about eye-to-eye, head-to-head, heart-to-heart in our posture that just makes us feel seen.

I think there is a temptation that, when our children or a child or an adult, is feeling alone, we want to pump them up with good stuff about them. We want to let them know how good they are and how pretty they are and how much we like being their friend. Those are good things to say. They’re actually not sustaining things, though. We need something deeper than that.

And so, little girl Laura, or anybody listening at any age, what you’ve got to know is that you are never alone! There is a God. He is the God of the whole universe, and that is big and cosmic, but He is also a God who sees you, knows you, is attentive to you. If you’re a child of God, He is always with you and He lives inside of you.

I think a passage of Scripture that comes to mind (I don’t know how much I could unpack it for a little girl, but the story would be a good one to tell) is of Hagar. Hagar was like playground Laura. I mean, Sarah did not want her around, and she made that clear! And so Hagar flees, and she goes off into the desert, and she has an encounter with the Lord.

Hagar gives a name to God in that passage. It’s in Genesis 16. Hagar says, “I have seen El Roi, the God who sees me.” The God who sees me! She found in the strength of God’s Name, in the strength of who He was, that she needed to stand up, dust herself off, and go back to that place where she really was misunderstood, and she really wasn’t liked.

I think it’s fascinating that in this moment, in this snapshot (now God was doing a million things; I don’t know all He was or is doing, but) God didn’t in this moment choose to remedy that situation by dealing with Sarah and making Sarah like Hagar. He chose to remedy the situation by setting Hagar’s feet on the fact that He sees her.

And that is the ultimate comfort to us when people don’t see us or people don’t like us or people misunderstand us or people don’t welcome us in. That’s going to happen, and there are probably lots of different ways to deal with that, some of them good, some of them not so good.

But we do have El Roi, the God who Sees Me. So I think I would just tell little girl you, “Jesus is with you on this playground. Jesus sees you. Jesus sees how much that hurt.” Now, you can’t go play on the swings with Jesus. Sometimes you want the comfort of people, but at the deepest level of our hearts to know we’re never truly alone, it really helps.

Laura: I totally agree. I’m going to take that with me. 

In this season of The Deep Well, we are going to continue exploring God’s Word and get a solid perspective on loneliness. I hope you’ll stick with us, first to heal from past hurts, and then to prepare for the future when—chances are—you and I will probably feel lonely again.

Erin: Yes, we will. Laura, I am so glad you are with us for this season! You and I have been friends for a long time, and you have such an empathetic heart! You have such an ability to think about the hurts, and the joys, of other people.

You’re good at helping me think like, “But what about this, or what about that? And what about that woman who wants to feel this way but really feels this way? And what about this woman who has had this experience?” I am looking forward to looking at this idea of loneliness from every angle with you.

Laura: That’s great, Erin. I’m looking forward to it, too. 

On the next episode of The Deep Well, Erin is going to help us address the problem of loneliness by taking us back to the first human relationship. So please be back here on The Deep Well.

God’s Word is a deep well that you can drop your bucket in and pull up truth every time! The Deep Well is a production of Revive Our Hearts, calling women to freedom, fullness and fruitfulness in Christ.

 

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About the Teacher

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many books and Bible studies including: 7 Feasts, Connected, Beautiful Encounters, and the My Name Is Erin series. She serves on the ministry team of Revive Our Hearts. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.

About the Guest

Laura Booz

Laura Booz

Laura Booz is the author of Expect Something Beautiful: Finding God's Good Gifts in Motherhood and the host of the Expect Something Beautiful podcast with Revive Our Hearts. She'll cheer you on, share practical ideas, and point out the beautiful ways God is working in your life. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Ryan, and their six children. Meet her at LauraBooz.com.