Consider the following information. From The Center for Disease Control: Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US. 115 people die each day in the United States from opioid abuse. From The Health Insurer CIGNA: Most Americans are considered lonely. From Fight the New Drug: This is the reality of what the porn industry fuels (and fantasizes): real people being sexually abused and exploited at the hands of family members, traffickers, and pimps. Each click to porn content directly fuels the demand for sex traffickers to make money by selling videos and images of their sex slaves to porn sites. From The Health Insurer State Farm: Many Americans do not know their neighbors, or have social interactions limited to a “wave or a nod.” From The Pew Research Trust: If it were a religion, the largest group would be those who claim no religious affiliation.
This information may seem disconnected. And, in some sense, it may be. But what if there is a connection between these realities? What if they are all symptoms of an increasing state of emptiness in the inner life of Americans? What if these are all viewed as symptoms, not causes of unhappiness? And is it possible that these symptoms are suggesting a lack of meaning or purpose? In 2016, the Los Angeles Times ran a story with this headline, in the Science Now section: Church attendance linked with reduced suicide risk, especially for Catholics, study says.
Might it be the case that we have a lack of meaning and purpose in our lives? I believe that without religion, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to see beyond ourselves to something greater. And without the something greater, it can be next to impossible to find the perspective that is necessary to overcome depression, anxiety and loneliness that seems to be a growing reality in the United States.
The Catholic faith calls us to recognize that meaning is all around us, often in quite ordinary things. Water is the vehicle for God’s grace of baptism. Bread and wine become the means Jesus uses to become truly present to us. Oil heals and strengthens. And the other people in the world? They are made in the very image and likeness of God. I am not alone, I am a member of the mystical Body of Christ, surrounded by a community of believers who not only believe what I believe, but support me in love and prayer.
This is not to suggest there is no need or place for professional treatment for mental health. There is, and people should seek it out when they need it. We should reach out to those who are lonely, sad, anxious, and depressed to remind them of our love for them and our connectedness. In the past couple of days the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) has been posted often. You can even chat online, or get help to help someone else.
But there is also a value to spiritual connectedness too. In addition to professional help, there are many who find assistance knowing others are praying for them, checking up on them, listening and seeking to understand. Sometimes the knowledge of the powerful, ever-present love of God can help us to know that we have purpose and meaning, value and worth beyond what we could possibly imagine. The unique vocation, or call, given to every person serves to remind us that we have a purpose, we have a meaning, that aspects of understanding and love have not only been given to us, but entrusted to us to share. God loves us, not as we can be, not for our potential, but today, here, now, as we are. That is true for me. That is true for you.
It is also true that a spiritual connection to God and others helps us in good times. We can express gratitude for blessings in our lives. We can celebrate happy events. And we can be there for one another when someone dies, gets sick, loses a job, or experiences some type of loss, pain or hardship. Being rooted in a community of faith in God can help us to heal. And just as the lifeline is available 24 hours a day, so too is God.
Jesus wants to lift our burden. He loves us, and wants us to know we are not alone. He died for our sins, so powerful is this love. He created you in his image and likeness, a unique sign of God Himself. And God calls us to be people, a community. Jesus forgives our sins, extends mercy, and so much wants us to embrace a powerful love for each one of us.
If you are struggling, even though it may seem impossible, reach out. If you know someone who is struggling, don’t wait. Reach out to them. Listen. Realize that even though they may not appear to have the strength to be understood, or may seek to push you away, you could be the very lifeline that keeps them alive.