Author Erin Davis explains how social media and technology in general can lead to isolation and loneliness, and offers help for finding and maintaining strong, healthy relationships. (Part 2 of 2)
Erin Davis: So I essentially stood on the stage and cried and said I'm lonely. It was not my most eloquent speaking moment. But at the end of that I said would anyone in here be brave enough to say in this room full of people, that you're lonely, too. And I bet two-thirds of the audience--
Jim Daly: Wow.
Erin: --stood up and wept.
End of Recap
John Fuller: That's Erin Davis sharing about a pretty powerful moment in her journey through a season of loneliness and how vast and common that problem is.
This is FOF with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, last time Erin shared pretty candidly about what it feels like to be surrounded by people but still feel completely alone.
Jim: John, I so appreciated the discussion last time because one Erin is so vulnerable. She's speaking to my heart. I know she's speaking to Jean's heart. I'm sure that's true for you and Dena.
Jim: And that vulnerability kind of opens up your mind to okay, where am I missing it. And that's what I caught last time. There's a lot of stuff there for me, that I was able to take away. And if you didn't hear the broadcast last time get the download. Go to the website. Do whatever you need to do because I think it will help you in your communication with your spouse, with your other family members, and friends about what it means to be truly connected in a highly connected world where we don't have great intimacy.
John: Um-hm. Yeah, a lot of false intimacy, it seems. And you mentioned, Jim, the title of Erin's book, which is Connected: Curing the Pandemic of Everyone Feeling Alone Together. Erin is an author, a blogger, a speaker. And she and her husband have three boys. They live on a small farm in Missouri and she's been here before at FOF.
Jim: Erin, welcome back to Focus.
Erin: Thanks for having me.
Jim: I so appreciated the conversation last time. But what I want to do is get to that fast that we left off with last time. You talked about fasting convenience. And I can't believe doing that, John, in this culture.
John: It's hard to fathom.
Jim: I mean, first of all, what did that look like? Automated, when you buy gas, that's automated now.
Jim: You slip your card in. So, you wouldn't do it, pay at the pump?
Erin: So no pay at the pump. (Laughter) No ATMs. I had to actually go into the bank.
Jim: And why were you doing this?
Erin: No on-line bill pay. Because I felt like an investigator, that I wanted to figure out what is making us so lonely. And I wanted to just turn every rock over. And I thought, maybe convenience is playing a role. Maybe we're exchanging those every-day encounters that we might have had before, where we had to go into the gas station and pay the gas station attendant—
Jim: Look somebody—
Erin: --or go into the—
Jim: --eyeball to eyeball.
Erin: --bank and say, "How are you?" Maybe that's playing a role. So, I gave up everything convenience related for 30 days. Now I'm a trial-by-fire girl, so I chose a month where I had an exorbitant amount of travel. I think I had like 14 flights booked in 24 days, or something crazy. I was promoting a book and had speaking engagements and so, I was having to travel a lot. And I close that month intentionally (Laughter).
And then the first day I'm driving to the airport and realized, I'm going to have to actually talk to the airline people. I can't like check in at the kiosk. And I'm going to have to actually pay at the parking garage. I'm gonna have to talk to the attendant. I'm gonna have to do all those things that I don't do and I just felt panicked, 'cause I thought, what's that gonna be like?
Erin: But it was a great month and I was actually more successful with that month than with giving up my phone and I made a lot of really great connections.
Jim: And there's a challenge for you, John. Are you gonna give that a try?
John: No. (Laughter) No, I'm not.
Jim: You know, Erin, what's important about that convenience, 'cause it sounds righteous. What I mean by that [is] who doesn't want to be more convenient?
Jim: And you can justify that by saying, "Well, I'll be able to spend more time with my family."
Jim: I'll be able to do the things I want to do. Our whole life is rooted in convenience, isn't it? But the big question is whether or not that's stealing from relationships. You know, for me when I'm engaging people, I try, not always, but I try to say, "Okay, Lord, what would You want me to do here?" You know, just to keep my heart open to what the conversation is, especially with a stranger, 'cause you never know who's crossing your path and why they're crossing your path. But you're right; it's one of those things, when we eliminate those opportunities, we're actually eliminating a chance to share the Gospel.
Erin: Right. Well, if you read the book of Matthew in particular, it reads like a story of interruptions to Jesus' life. He's (Laughter) going to one place and a woman comes and asks for healing. Then He's going to heal that woman and a man comes and asks for healing for his child. And He's going to the next place. And somebody comes and said, "You have to come now." And He does it every time with compassion. The only time He ever seems exasperated is with the disciples who say, "No, you can't come, children. No, go away. Can't you see how important He is?" He's never exasperated with the people who interrupt his life. And honestly, that kinda rubs me the wrong way, because I mean, He was just interrupted over and over and over and over.
Jim: He was available.
Erin: He was available and He was gracious and some of the most beautiful opportunities of His ministry come when He's on his way to one place and someone gets in His path and then He goes to another place. And I'm not Jesus. And I'm not having people coming to me, asking me to heal them. But would I even look up if somebody wanted me to pray for them? Am I missing opportunities to speak life and truth and encouragement because I just want to pay at the pump?
Jim: You know, John, I want to connect to a story that came through on another broadcast that we did with a woman. It was on the issue of abortion ironically and she was a pregnant teenager and if you recall, she worked at a packaging, shipping and packaging store. And she had prayed that the Lord would give her a sign as to what to do with that baby. She didn't know whether to keep it or not.
And at the end of the day, 5 o'clock, a pastor walked in and went to the counter and just noticed that she looked discouraged and asked, "Are you okay?" And it became the turning point in her deciding to give her child life. I mean, think of that situation and you know what? There are times, and I'll be I guess, critical of myself here, that I'm movin' so fast I wouldn't have stopped to maybe notice that she looked discouraged.
And think of the impact of that, that, that pastor had on that young lady's life. And she took it as a sign from the Lord that somebody cared about her. And I think she ended up going to that church and they surrounded her with love and care and she kept the child. And I just think that's a beautiful example of what you're talking about right here.
Erin: Yeah, I have a friend who was a waitress and didn't know the Lord. And the man she was waiting tables to just similar, noticed somethin' in her and just shared the Gospel with her. She accepted Jesus on the spot, got baptized that night in a bath tub and just lives a radical life for Jesus now.
We'll go to a restaurant. Are any of us looking at the waitress? Are any of us looking at the people around us? No, we're all scrolling our screens. And again, the technology is neutral, but are we making an exchange?
Jim: Well, our--
Erin: Are we missing something? Are we missing an opportunity to, if it's not share the Gospel, be encouraging or--
Jim: --Well, and what I'm observing now and we've talked about this, is just families are not connecting at a restaurant. You look at 'em at the table. They all have their phones out and everybody's doing their own thing. So, I mean, even in that little table with four people, a mom and dad and two kids oftentimes, they're not even connecting.
It sounds like a heavy negative though, but I want to re-emphasize what you believe the Lord would want us to do. So, just give that recap once again for me, in terms of if people have felt like, okay, this is me. Erin's describing me. I am lonely. If I would've been at that conference, I would've stepped forward. I would've been in the two-thirds that said, "I feel that loneliness." What can a person do today to begin to break the shackles of digital loneliness and do something differently?"
Erin: Well, I think first you have to write yourself a permission slip to need other people. I think we're as a culture who really elevates people who go at it alone, the athlete that trains 15 hours a day and the scientist who spends all his time in the lab figuring out a cure. And those are good things, but I believe that God intended us to need each other. And I think we see that from the very first creation of man and woman. So, it's okay to need other people. That doesn't mean that you are a weak person. I think God intended you to be interwoven with other people.
And then you're gonna have to probably make some hard exchanges back. I'm not lonely anymore. The seismic shift exposed deep loneliness in me, but that is not the end of my story. I have deep meaningful relationships with my family. I have a circle of friends now that I know, know me and like me anyway. And I know them and like them anyway.
But I constantly have to remind myself not to make those exchanges of convenience, for being inconvenienced for other people. For digital connection, versus real human connection. For makin' them think I'm perfect, for letting myself be vulnerable with them.
Jim: Do you wake up every day thinking about that though? How do you get from Point A to Point B?
Erin: Oh, it's a process. You can't just pull the rip cord and suddenly float into a non-lonely life. It's a process and I still tend to default to those old patterns a lot, just a few weeks ago I was feeling like nobody really knows me and some of those feelings that I have. And I have a women's group that I meet with once a week and right before Bible study, because I waited so that they wouldn't follow up with me, I texted and said, "I just don't feel that I'm not coming tonight." And they know me and they've read Connected and so, they know that I tend to isolate myself when I don't want people to know what's really going on with me. So, they showed up an hour later with coffee and they sat in my living room and they said, "You don't get to do this, Erin. You don't get to pull away from us."
Erin: "What's going on?" And I, arms crossed, "Nothing; I'm fine." And they're like, "No, you're not fine and we're your friends and we want to know." So, I still can default to those old patterns of wanting to hide and wanting people to think I'm perfect and wanting my everything to be kind of behind the curtain. But gratefully I have friends who don't let me do that now. So, it's a process and you're not gonna figure it out once and for all.
Jim: You know, I think, too and this is both male and female, I think that idea of, I'd rather die than ask for help is (Laughing) kind of what you're saying.But it's not the Christian way—
Jim: --to do that. We need vulnerability.
Jim: And that's what the Lord keeps pressing us to move toward, is vulnerability—
Jim: --'cause that way He'll be glorified.
Erin: I think we're missin' the good stuff, that thing we do where we never ask for help, we're missing the best stuff there is—
Erin: --in relationships. The messiest, that's another exchange we make. We like our relationships to fit into neat boxes and they don't. But it's messy to ask for help. It's messy to let people help you, but it's the best that there is.
Jim: Erin, let me ask you this; in the context of marriage, there's a lot of loneliness. I think here at Focus on the Family, that may be one of our major feedback responses that we get, that both men and women are lonely in their marriages for lots of different reasons. Speak to that dynamic of marriage and loneliness, not people in your church, not your neighbors, not that kind of loneliness factor, but right in your own marriage, where you should have the greatest intimacy of friendship and spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy. There's so many couples that are lonely, yes, even in the church. How do we begin and what would you advise us to do to become more intimate with our spouses?
Erin: Well, that's something we heard over and over and over with the women we interviewed for this book. We would say, "What makes you the most lonely?" And they would say, "I'm most lonely in my marriage." Or "I'm most lonely when my husband doesn't seem to understand me." Or "I have a husband who doesn't know the Lord and that makes me lonely." They were all over the map in all kinds of different marriages and all different ages.
And that was, I think an important point to make, because I think there are some people out there who think, if I can just get married I won't be lonely. Or if I can just have children I won't be lonely. Or if I can just have more friends then I won't be lonely. But it's about a quality of relationships versus a quantity of relationships, or are a certain relationship.
And there's just like this whole issue of loneliness and connection is very layered, there's probably not one reason in marriages that we're experiencing that. But I think one thing that I know in my own marriage is the Golden Rule is a little bit tarnished, this idea that I treat you a certain way so you better treat me a certain way. I was nice to you; you better be nice to me. I forgave you; you better forgive me.
And this side of heaven, we're always going to have sin and forgiveness issues. And when marriage, when you're that close to somebody, you have a front row seat to their sin and they have a front row seat to your sin, you're gonna hit each other with shrapnel, right? So, this process of, I'm gonna continue to forgive you and I'm gonna continue to ask for forgiveness, for 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? At some point I think maybe we stopped offering that as freely to each other and we do it. The Bible tells us, love isn't [that]. We keep a record of wrongs. And that erodes intimacy. That's why the Bible describes love as patient, kind, doesn't keep a record of wrongs, because we tend to distort it.
Jim: And that's the human nature versus—
Erin: --It's the human nature.
Jim: --God's nature.
Erin: And sin is present in marriage and sin is present in parenthood and sin is present in our friendships. And I think in marriage sometimes we stop forgiving. We stop seeking forgiveness and that erodes intimacy.
On the same side of the coin, the other side of the coin is, that when we do what the Bible calls us to, when we confess our sins one to each other, when we readily offer forgiveness because God forgave us, I think it enhances intimacy and marriage can be really such a beautiful picture as God's intention of God's forgiveness for us.
Jim: It would seem to me, too, humility is born out of connectedness. 'Cause if you're not connected, there's no reason for humility. (Laughter)
Erin: And humility—
Erin: --lack of humility is causing us to be disconnected—
Erin: --because we are seeking our own good and we're seeking what we want out of a relationship. And that … that doesn't lead to intimacy.
Jim: Well, and that's a pretty important point. Again, we're a very self-centered culture. We're very narcissistic, becoming more and more that way. And it would seem reasonable, rational in that kind of construct that we are gonna move to less intimacy—
Jim: --because we can be more narcissistic when we're less connected.
Erin: I think we have an ATM mentality when it comes to our relationships. I put this in; I push a button and I will get this output out. And in reality, relationships are a lot more like a slot machine. I mean, you don't know what you're gonna get. And I talk about it in the book, my husband and I took a foster son into our home before we had kids, with the intention to adopt him. And he was 14. We had him for about a year and you want to talk about messy; it was messy.
Jim: That's messy.
Erin: And it ended messy. And if I were to put everything on the scale that I gave to him and everything on the scale that he gave to me, the scale would be really lopsided. But still an important relationship, still worthwhile, still a good use of my time and energy, still one of the most important relationships of my life. But if I had this idea that I'm gonna give to him this and he better give to me that or it's not a relationship worth having, it didn't work out that way. So, we have to get rid of our ATM mentality of what's in it for me, relationship?
Jim: Well, and that's a nice way of saying, get rid of our selfishness.
Erin: That's right.
Jim: And that's what really that challenge is whether you foster adopt or any kind of expression of God's love in the culture, reaching out to people that are living in messy places, it's gonna mess you up a little bit.
Erin: That's right.
Jim: It's gonna be a messy place for you now. And we need to find a way to show God's love in those environments.
Jim: Erin, let me ask you this. For many people, they lead busy lives. Busyness can be the excuse of not going deep with people. Boy, I'm guilty of that. I mean, I don't know about you, John, but you know, you can only manage so many relationships.
John: Yeah, I have too many people that I know and not enough time to talk to even just a few of 'em—
Jim: But if you're having that illumination right now, if it's coming to you, wow, I really don't have intimate friends. I don't. I feel lonely. How would a person connect? You don't sit down in a restaurant and go, "Hi, I'm really lonely. Would you talk to me?"
Erin: Right. (Laughing)
Jim: I'm sure--
Erin: That might not work out well. (Laughter)
Jim: --[That wouldn't] work too well. So, how do you go about recognizing the deficit? Maybe you're too connected digitally and all your conversations are texts and you're goin', okay, this doesn't feel healthy. You've heard what we're sayin' today, but what do I do now? What do I do?
Erin: Well, it's one step at a time. If your digital use is the problem, you're gonna have to begin to wean yourself somewhere. And I'm a woman who lives in the extreme, so I just turned off Facebook, 'cause I couldn't manage it well. Maybe that's not where you are, but maybe you can give yourself parameters. Maybe when you decide you're gonna text, you actually pick up the phone and call.
But that might not be the source of loneliness for you. Maybe it's this addiction to perfection. You want people to think you're perfect. Well, for you, you're gonna have to call a friend and be vulnerable and you're gonna have to work towards saying what you really think and what you really feel.
And maybe it's busyness. I think busyness was the big one probably for me and my family. The roots of your relationships cannot grow deep if you don't have time to really be with people. And if you are maxed out all the time, you're not gonna have deep relationship. So, I think that's another tradeoff we've made, is busyness for intimacy.
John: Hm. And Jim, I'm thinking of something you said earlier and that is, for those of us who feel like we're in a fairly healthy place and we want to do better in this area of life, to just actively pray about the people we come into contact with.
John: There may be somebody at church that is walking by and you have to stop them and say, "Are you really fine?" And take that step of being inconvenienced. You might find yourself an hour later still talking to them, but there is an element of reaching out to others who are lonely, but just can't admit it, right?
Jim: And I think, you know, John, in that regard in there and I'd love your response to this,I think even in our cultural space, we're dividing so much that we can't speak to other people—
Jim: --if they don't think the way we think. If they don't embrace God, it makes us uncomfortable to talk with them and so, we don't look for those relationships. But what I have found is, when you can show kindness, just like Romans 2:4 says, that it's God's kindness that leads one to repentance, there's almost like this irresistible trap door in the heart that the Lord has put there. And when you express kindness to a human being, even if they're opposing God, what I have found is, that when you show that kindness, it's like that vault begins to open up. It's irresistible and they start to weaken their unhealthy guard and they start to engage you. And in doing so, they're engaging hopefully, the character of God. And I think it's so beneficial and we've got to, as Christians, we have got to maintain relationships with non-believers. That's the Gospel. That's the Good News. That's how we share the Gospel, right?
Erin: That's right. And certainly, the issues of our times matter, but I'm not sure anybody's gonna be won over to the Gospel by hearing us war dance about whatever issue it is we're talking about. But many, many, many, me included, have been won to the Gospel by somebody looking me in the eye, investing in me and over time, sharing the truth of God with me, walking it out with me. And so, you're right; we certainly need to stand for truth in our culture, but while we're standing for truth in our culture, we need to value people in addition to valuing God's Word.
Jim: Well, and I think that's the core. When you look at Connected, your book, I mean, that's the core virtue, is that you're connected with people so they see the love of Christ and they might embrace Him as their Savior. That's how people are gonna learn about the Lord.
Erin: I think we, as Christians, are the only ones that can solve this problem of loneliness, 'cause the Bible says, "We love because He first loved us." We know how to love because of His love and actually, atheists groups are forming all over the country, atheist churches and they're growing wildly, because they want what we have, but Jesus is the table that we all gather around. And I think they will be drawn to us loving each other well and taking care of each other and interweaving our lives into each other's lives, that there is something really attractive about that.
Jim: Erin, we may have left the most obvious question out and we need to address it and that is our relationship with God. We talked about [how] we don't text God (Laughing). And one of the byproducts, the unfortunate byproducts of a highly digital environment that we're in, is we may be praying less. I don't have any data for that.
John: That's interesting.
Jim: But I bet it's true. I just have a gut feeling that we pray less, because we don't text God.
Jim: And we're not used to communicating in that way. Talk about the importance of that core relationship between ourselves and the Lord.
Erin: Well, He's really the answer. I mean, I think it's out of an extension of intimacy with God that we can have intimacy with other people. And the Bible is so rich with the truth that God knows us and that He allows us to be known. And when we try to fill that need with other people or with busyness or with our "I-" stuff and don't know God, it's just a bottomless pit.
I love the story of Hagar, who is, she's carrying Abraham's baby and Sarah is very upset about it and there's some mean girl stuff going on, of course. And Hagar flees to the wilderness and she's alone by a river. And how is that for an illustration of loneliness? She's alone. She's pregnant. She's in the wilderness.
And God comes to her and He tells her, He's "the God who sees her." And she kinda puts her chin up and heads back into her difficult situation. And He's the God who sees me. And He's the God who sees you and so, anytime you have this feeling, nobody knows me. One woman told us when we were doing interviews for this book, "Loneliness is the feeling that nobody's thinking about me." And that's never, ever, ever true.
Erin: He's the God who sees you. He's the God who knows the very hairs on your head. He's the God who before a word is on your tongue, knows it completely. He's the God who knit you together in your mama's womb. So, even if it is true that nobody in your world really knows you, God knows you intimately and invites you to know Him. And I think the big question is, will we let that be enough? Or do we want to know God and be known by God and have whatever additional relationships we feel like we need to satisfy the ache.
Jim:Connected, Erin Davis, author of that book, this has been a really good conversation. Thanks for bein' with us.
Erin: Thanks for havin' me.
John: Well, we've heard a great perspective on the issue of loneliness and what a powerful reminder that God sees us in the midst of our pain. And if you've identified with Erin and what she's shared these past couple of days you'll want to look for a copy of her book, Connected, which as you can tell from our conversation is very thought-provoking and would be a good book to read through with your small group or perhaps a couple of friends.
Find a copy of that, as well as the CD or download of this entire two-part discussion, at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And let me share a comment that we received from a wife and mom named Carrie about the work we do here at FOF. "Focus on the Family is such a great ministry. I've gotten so many great parenting tips and information about what's going on in the world and the family, and it's just a very important ministry today for the family. I can't even imagine what life would be like without it because the books, the broadcast, the magazines are so important to us as parents and as a family."
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Erin DavisView Bio
Erin Davis is a popular speaker and blogger who has addressed women of all ages nationwide. She is also the author of several books including Graffiti: Learning to See the Art in Ourselves and Beyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood As a Sacred Role. Erin and her husband, Jason, have two sons and reside in Springfield, Mo.