When we lose our sense of purpose and meaning, we lose our sense of connection to others and God; we lose our sense of community. Without a sense of purpose, other people mean little to us because we no longer value ourselves.
A Veteran sat in a Veterans’ hospital outpatient clinic PTSD group. The chaplain had just asked the group, “What is the most difficult aspect of dealing with PTSD?” An older Veteran began, “For me it is the loneliness. I feel like no one can understand what I am going through. After I gave up on life, I didn’t want to be around people. I was suspicious of anyone who reached out to me. I thought they were only trying to con me or get something from me. I became sarcastic and had a ‘nasty’ attitude. I really believed I didn’t need anybody else and I told anybody who would listen.”
Another Veteran came to see the chaplain saying, “I am soon to be discharged from the alcohol and drug treatment program. I think I have done well in the 28 days of treatment, but now the counselors are telling me that I need to get a sponsor. They are saying there is no way that I can stay sober without a sponsor. Chaplain, I got Jesus and I got God. I don’t think I need a sponsor; I don’t need other people in my life.”
When we give up on letting others be a core part of our lives, it is often because of a significant loss in our lives. We have had an idea – for example, “If I am good, nothing bad will happen to me or to those I love;” or we have a relationship – for example, a spouse, lover, friend – to whom we can no longer hold fast. Perhaps we are sick in spite of having been a good person; perhaps our spouse, lover or friend dies, becomes ill or leaves us. It is then that we are tempted to give up, to believe life has no purpose. It is then that our hurt and grief tempt us to pull away from connection and community. It is then that we may tell ourselves, “I am never going to have high ideals again, I am never going to let myself be hurt again. I am going to build a shell around myself and let no one or no purpose ever enter my heart again.”
There is good news: God has felt this same pain each time we have left our relationship with God. Yet God has not given up on us. God invites us to reconnect with him and with others. We are invited to let go of the burden and loneliness of pretending we are self-sufficient and join the community. Through many generations, people have received this same invitation. We are in good company, as shown in the Scriptures below.