We tend to approach whatever’s wrong in our lives with a discrete “fix,” even though what’s mostly called for is something wholistic, systemic.
I was reminded of that mistaken tendency when I read an article by the Surgeon General, who has made loneliness a major focus of his work. Loneliness, I thought? With all the serious physical and mental illnesses ravaging this country—he’s focused on loneliness? But he writes:
Loneliness is more than just a bad feeling. When people are socially disconnected, their risk of anxiety and depression increases. So does their risk of heart disease (29 percent), dementia (50 percent), and stroke (32 percent). The increased risk of premature death associated with social disconnection is comparable to smoking daily — and may be even greater than the risk associated with obesity.
If we are concerned about anxiety, depression, heart disease, dementia, stroke, we often turn our attention to the individual things we can fix with pills, surgeries, and radical diets that demonize one “bad” thing. Find the enemy, one at a time, and kill it. Maybe, like me, you’ve noticed a rising obsession with purity these days. Enormous, fearful energy is poured into fasts, purges and cleanses. Billboards shout, “Eat Clean Bro.” We mistake matters of the heart for issues of the stomach. We tinker endlessly with the particulars because we don’t want to look at the whole.
In page after page of the New Testament, Jesus is guiding people away from technical solutions to spiritual problems. You can’t solve your guilt problem by sacrificing a lamb. You won’t be healed and whole by refusing to touch forbidden things or people. It’s not what goes into a person that makes someone unclean, it’s what comes out the heart. In other words, attend first to the big things, what Jesus calls the “weightier matters.” Who do I need to forgive? Where do I need to grow up? What do I need to lay down? Who can I lift up? Where can I find a place to serve?
If we can think not only with our brains but with our hearts, it’s much easier to heal whatever’s hurting—in our personal lives, in our families and communities, and in our nation.