“My closest friend is a fish”: Responding to the loneliness of our day

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“My closest friend is a fish”: Responding to the loneliness and anxiety of our day

September 29, 2023 -

STOCK PHOTO: A scuba diver looks at goldfish underwater. By JonMilnes/stock.adobe.com.

STOCK PHOTO: A scuba diver looks at goldfish underwater. By JonMilnes/stock.adobe.com.

STOCK PHOTO: A scuba diver looks at goldfish underwater. By JonMilnes/stock.adobe.com.

Rex Colubra is a Wisconsin diver who has developed a unique relationship with a wild, smallmouth bass he named Elvis. Colubra was exploring a lake in 2021 when “all these fish were coming up to me,” he explains. “I noticed one was sticking closer than the rest.” When he returned to the lake a few weeks later, he brought crawfish snacks for his new friend.

Since then, he has visited Elvis about a dozen times, documenting their reunions for his 174,000 TikTok followers. “He’s completely obsessed with me,” Colubra states. “He follows me around and just stares me in the eyes.” Skeptics might wonder how the diver knows Elvis from the other fish, but he says the fish has a “unique mouth disfigurement,” likely from a fishing hook.

Colubra refers to Elvis as “my underwater lover,” “aqua puppy,” and “buddy beneath the waves.” In a November 2022 Instagram post, he states, “My closest friend is a fish.”

Loneliness is as dangerous as cigarettes

New York Times columnist David French reports that between 1990 and 2021, the percentage of Americans reporting that they had no close friends quadrupled. Almost half of all Americans surveyed reported having three close friends or fewer.

The Wall Street Journal notes that 27 percent of respondents to a recent survey reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder, up from 8 percent in 2019. Half of eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds report anxiety or depression symptoms.

What is the source of our discontent?

Our political divisiveness is one factor: 65 percent of us say we always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics. Rising crime and violence are another: Target has closed nine stores in four states because of rampant crime, for example. Financial fears are another contributor: the markets have been falling in September, as they often do; on this day in 2008, the Dow suffered the largest single-day drop to that point in its history.

As a reflection of culture, our music is getting sadder. Gen Z loneliness is so bad that some young adults are spending thousands of dollars trying to make friends through social clubs and gym memberships. Research shows that people who are socially disconnected have a 29 percent higher risk of heart disease, a 32 percent greater risk of stroke, and a 50 percent increased risk of dementia for older adults.

According to a recent advisory from the US Surgeon General’s office, loneliness can increase the risk of premature death as much as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

“When men choose not to believe in God”

Here’s what I think is going on: our secularized worldview is victimizing us.

Gerard Baker said it well in the Wall Street Journal this week: “Over the past thirty years, the values of Judeo-Christian belief that had inspired and sustained Western civilization and culture for centuries have been steadily replaced in a moral, cultural, and political revolution of the postmodern ascendancy. But the contradictions and implausibilities inherent in this successor creed have been increasingly exposed.”

He points to the rejection of national borders, a “quasi-biblical belief in climate catastrophism,” and a “wholesale cultural self-cancellation in which the virtues, values, and historic achievements of traditional civilization are rejected.” There’s more to his profound article than I have space to report, but I want to elaborate theologically on his third sociological factor.

We were made for relationship with God and each other. This is why St. Augustine’s famous prayer—“Our heart is restless until it rests in you”—strikes such an evocative chord in our souls. And it is why Satan does all he can to lead us into sin, knowing that it will drive us away from God (Genesis 3:8) and each other (v. 12).

Now that we are living in a culture that rejects the very notion of “sin,” our enemy must be very pleased. When there are no speed limits, lane markers, or guardrails, crashes are inevitable. The Belgian author and poet Émile Cammaerts was right: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing. Then they become capable of believing in anything.”

“Consequences have compound interest”

Commenting on the prophetic warning, “They sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7), Max Lucado writes: “Consequences have compound interest. You determine the quality of tomorrow by the seeds you sow today.”

No matter how far our secularized society drifts from God, it is still true that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). It is the only power of God for salvation. It is the only spiritual chemotherapy for the spiritual malignancy that afflicts every human being.

Therefore, as spiritual oncologists, it would be malpractice for us to offer any other therapy but this. Our job is to show people they have cancer, point to the only therapy that can save them, and teach them how to receive and share it.

If you and I were medical oncologists, we would know that our work is urgent for saving lives. As spiritual oncologists, we can know that our work is even more urgent for saving eternal souls before they perish into eternal separation from God in hell.

To recast Robin Williams’ observation in biblical terms: The greatest gift is eternal life, and the greatest sin is to return it unopened.

With whom will you share it today?

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