God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. (Psalm 68:6 NLT)

They were side-by-side on the front page of the Saturday paper above the fold. The first read:

"Pray for Me and Mine"

The second read:

Age: 77

Charge: Solicitation of Prostitution

In some ways, the articles spoke to the same crying need.

The first headline referred to an article about a prayer box we put below our electronic sign in front of the church building. With a regular reference to the prayer box on the sign, we have received quite a few prayer requests. Many of these are anonymous — serious cries for help and support when there is no one to offer those things in the requester's life. Their needs and cries are gripping. Our sadness in honoring their requests for prayer is that so many have no one else — or nothing else — to turn to in their lives for support, friendship, and help in times of need than a prayer box and people they don't know.

The second headline referred to an older man in a nearby small town. Reading between the lines suggested a need for support, companionship, and help. Granted, the alleged means of acquiring those in this case were far different than the prayer requests, but both speak to the same need and a similar pain loneliness.

I can remember a poignant moment a number of years ago; Donna and I were watching ER one evening. At the end of the show, a mom who has just given her dead daughter's organs for transplant leaves the hospital completely alone. As the credits began to roll across the screen, Donna looked at me and asked, "Are there many people that have to do that — you know, face that kind of heartbreak at the hospital alone?"

I couldn't tell what answer she expected to receive. "Unfortunately," I replied, "yes, there are many people who face that kind of heartbreak alone. In a time when so many people live far away from extended family, folks move to a place and don't really have friends except for a few folks they see regularly at work."

The loneliest people on earth?
Americans live in a culture that is full of lonely people — some studies suggest the loneliest people on earth. Many other "modern" cultures around the world are battling a similar and growing loneliness. With all the email, instant messaging, text messaging, and mobile phones, many people live life devoid of very much human touch or face to face contact. Many feel absolutely alone.

For over a decade, futurists and culture watchers have warned us that as the high tech world invades more and more of our lives, we will need to have a compensating opportunity for "high touch" moments in our lives. These are not experienced through cyber or text anything. These require face-to-face contact, skin-to-skin human touch, and the genuine words of a friend whose face we can see and whose body language we can experience.

As churches have gotten more "mega" and less personal, how are we going to find these "high touch" moments and share them with others who so desperately need them?

How are Jesus-followers going to follow their Lord's example of noticing, touching, speaking, and caring for those who feel alone and abandoned?

How am I going to be a part of the work of God of placing the lonely in families?

So why raise the questions without giving any answers? Simple, we need to prayerfully and thoughtfully respond to the crisis as churches, the followers of Jesus, and as individuals. One person can be a powerful blessing and we must choose to be that person of blessing. A group can make an even greater difference when banded together with a commitment to truly be the church that cares like Christ. And churches — small, large, and mega — have a responsibility to do more than build empires and hold services for the saved: they must touch the hurt of the world. So let's have the questions trouble us until we begin to be part of the answers to the human loneliness epidemic.

Oh, and if you have a suggestion or two on how to do this — for churches, for Jesus-seekers as a group, or for individual Christians — please share it. You can go to the following location and share your insight: http://blog.heartlight.org/phil/2006/07/lonely.html

Too many folks face life's deepest challenges and worst heartaches alone. Let's do more than talk about it; let's find someone that needs a touch of the Savior's grace today ... and touch them, hear them, and be that person's friend.