Human beings need social interaction. They NEED it, or else they will begin to fall a part, in every which sense of the word. Social isolation has been used as a punishment mechanism in prisons for centuries. Every year 80,000 prisoners in the United States are locked away in social isolation spaces (cells that are no more than 6 feet by 9 feet). These times of isolation away from prison guards and other inmates usually lasts for 23 hours a day, and can last a week, a month, a year or even a decade. What scientists have recently found is that extended periods of social isolation is equally as damaging to people's bodies, and psyches as actual physical punishment or torture. People in extended social isolation often have the following symptoms: insomnia, organ depletion, heart failure, deep physical pain, agonizing migrane headaches, high blood pressure, bowel control loss, rocking back and forth, shock, blindness, hearing loss, insanity, and the sad list goes on.
So, here's what I have been thinking. God knows that people, humans, need social interaction. God wired human beings to be in connection with one another. One of the most powerful activities that Jesus engages in in the Bible is reaching out to people who are in social isolation. The demoniac named Legion, for example, who lived the tombs of Garadene, was totally isolated. Nobody talked to him or gave him any attention. Legion was going insane, living by himself in the middle of nowhere. Jesus connected with him, cast out his demons, and made him well. Most of the healings that Jesus enacts in the gospels are of people who, because of their physical maladies (leprosy, blindness, bleeding, paraplegia) have been cut off from normal social interaction. Usually these people are in both personal and in social pain. Jesus heals them, and reconnects them with society. What Lieberman's research shows is that Jesus' desire to connect with people socially was a healing mechanism in and of itself. Connecting with people socially actually healed them personally.
John Stott, the late 20th century evangelist and theologian said that church plays three fundamentally important roles in people's lives. Church offers people connection to a higher power, it gives people significance and meaning in their everyday lives, and it offers people social connection (fellowship) with one another. Stott viewed social connection as essential to a healthy person's entire being.
As a pastor, I have seen first hand the impact of social connection, and the power of the Holy Spirit in a person's life. Every week in my Seeds Bible Study (10:30AM, Wednesday, Seeds Cafe, Colorado Springs), I encounter homeless people who have not been interacted with socially for a long time. I will begin my Bible study, and then, one of them will raise their hand. They will ask a question. Sometimes the question is extremely insightful. I will dignify their question, whatever it is, with the best answer I can muster at the moment. This will happen week in and week out. After months of this kind of dignifying social interaction, I can honestly say that I have seen people change. They begin to heal. Their thinking becomes more clear. Their physical maladies disappear. It is a living example of the power of social connection and the Holy Spirit in a person's life.
On a personal note, I have begun to realize how socially isolating it can be to be a pastor of a large church. I am always, it seems, either working or hanging out with family (which is social in a way, but it is also not social). Sometimes I can be so tired from work, or stressed out by a big decision, that when a friend calls on the phone, I don't pick up. However, after reading Brook's NYT piece, I am realizing that picking up the phone call of a friend could be as important as getting a good night's sleep and three square meals a day. So, I am trying to be more social, even when I don't feel like it.
What about you? How does social interaction impact your health?
God made us for connection - with Him, and each other!
All For Now,