There are some communities that tragically seem to miss something vital in their communing. A support group can be a place where a person can delve deeper into the behavior that isolates them; websites are reportedly linking strangers together who are, in turn, simultaneously committing suicide. Moreover, the sheer number of online confessionals reveals the need for a community where one can be real about plaguing guilt, failures, and offenses. Members clearly express a need for the fellow humanness of a flawed community, and at the same time a need to remain, in some ways, somewhat inhuman—unknown, nameless, faceless.
Brandon’s is a name and a story over which to pause. The 21-year-old died in the privacy of a chat room full of people who watched by web-cam as he killed himself with drugs and alcohol. Their conversation was disquieting, left behind in a hauntingly silent script. Voices cheered him to pass out on screen. Brandon responded with his phone number. “Call if I look dead,” he said. But even after he passed out, they spoke as if he was something less than real. “He’s dead,” said someone. “Happy trails,” said another. “Should I call 911?” “No!” they agreed in unison.
Beneath the promises of our successfully linked world, with our ever-growing friend lists and more ways to connect than we have time for, a poignant undertow of despair is noticeably emerging. Ironically, we are living in a disconnected, lonely world, where the need for true community and meaningful connectedness has never been more piercingly heard and severely felt. It is the longing most often voiced by teenagers around the world; it is the reason most often cited for discontent in every thing from jobs to suburbs to relationships: real connection. “What does ‘friend’ even mean now,” asked one columnist recently. When the diaries of the famed atheist, Madeline Murray O’Hare were auctioned off several years ago, they sadly found punctuated throughout her journals the words: “Will somebody somewhere please love me? Will somebody somewhere please love me?”
Our longing for meaningful connection is real, and it is a longing that runs deeper than any one area of our lives: virtually, spiritually, intellectually, socially. We are looking for connections of heart, soul, and mind.
The same teacher who said the greatest commandment on earth is to love God with all of our strength, soul, and being, once held a child in front of him and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”
Showing a child as a sign of the community of God’s kingdom, Jesus seems to be saying something deliberate about the kind of community he is drawing together. Little children love readily with all of themselves. Their connections are real; their unity genuine, perhaps because their minds have not yet been deterred by suspicion, disappointment, or pride. And as such, their hearts grasp something about communing we often do not as adults. G.K. Chesterton, who said he learned more by watching children than any philosophy book, once observed that children have in their ownership the obscure idea of loyalty even to a thing. The child who has gone to bed without his toy does not only feel that he is sad without it. He also feels in some transcendental way that the toy is sad without him.
Jesus suggests that those who will be like children, like men and women aware that the love we seek also seeks us, will find the kingdom of God. In other words, the very community we long for is governed by one who longs for us to be in it. If God is like the shepherd willing to leave the flock to go out searching for the one who has strayed, there is nowhere we can flee from his presence; there is never a time we won’t belong. Indeed, there is no greater love, no greater connection, no greater communing.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Leonard Pitts, Jr., “Another link to connect us doesn’t work,” The Detroit Free Press, Feb. 12, 2003.