You Need Community More Than Air Conditioning
This article is coming out in August, and in the stagnant summer heat, many might find it hard to imagine needing anything more than air conditioning. But you didn’t read the title wrong—roughly 30 years ago, this statement proved itself to be devastatingly true.
A deadly heat wave descended on Chicago in the summer of 1995. For a week, the temperature topped out in triple digits. The Chicago Tribune compared the humidity to “roasting under a wet wool blanket.” On July 14, the heat was discussed by Mayor Daley at a press conference at city hall. “It’s hot out there. We all walk out there. It’s very, very, very hot.” While this kind of weather is common in some areas of the world, Chicago wasn’t prepared for it. The sick, the elderly, and those without air conditioning were the most vulnerable. Many died.
But just how bad was the death toll?
“Coroners initially counted 465 dead, but many of the dead weren’t discovered until weeks later, when the stench of decomposition oozed from homes and apartments when almost 300 more bodies found. Researchers would eventually tie 739 deaths to the week’s weather.”
Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist, spent five years trying to figure out how so many people died preventable deaths. He discovered that what separated the neighborhoods with the lowest number of deaths from those with the highest wasn’t poverty. It was relationships. Residents “knew who was alone, who was old, and who was sick,” and took it upon themselves to do “wellness checks.”
People didn’t die because it was hot. They died because they were relationally disconnected. Even more than air conditioning, they needed a friend.
Do you have substantive, deep friendships? If you don’t, you’re far from alone. You’re probably normal.
The former US Surgeon General called loneliness an American healthcare crisis, noting that loneliness is reported—at any given time—by 40 percent of all adults. The more time you spend online, especially on social media, the more likely you are to be lonely. It’s ironic that the internet and social media, which were supposed to lead to more human connection, are instead leading contributors to greater social isolation.
Interestingly, this lack of true friendships has launched some unusual businesses:
- Chuck McCarthy is Los Angeles’s first people walker. He charges $7 per mile to walk humans near his home and surrounding area. There are no job qualifications—only the ability to walk, talk, and, most importantly, listen.
- On the anniversary of his brother’s murder, a man from the Bronx hired a professional cuddler to sit on a bench in the park where the crime happened and hold his hands.
- In Tokyo, you can rent a friend. “With us,” Yumi says, “people can talk about their feelings without worrying what their real friends think.”
What does this tell us? We are not designed to live alone. We were designed to live in a relational community. And people who don’t have that will go to great lengths to get it.
It turns out God got it right from the beginning. One of the most important verses on relationships in the Bible comes in the opening chapters.
“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’" (Genesis 2:18)
This is the first time in the Bible that we are told that there is something wrong. And what is it that’s wrong? A human being, Adam, is living alone. It’s not good for a person to be alone. Don’t miss that this was before sin entered the world. There is no sickness or death. Adam is living in paradise and has a perfect relationship with God, but that wasn’t enough without a friend.
There is a lot we can learn from that verse. We think that a new job or new city is going to make us happy, and so we change our circumstances, only to be disappointed when they don’t deliver what we expected. Sometimes what we are really longing for is friendship.
One underrated factor in whether we enjoy our life isn’t what we are doing or where we are but who we are with. You might want to think twice before you leave friends for a promotion or a change in scenery.
God has created us to live in community. But what does Christian community look like? What kinds of relationships do we need? Here are a few biblical qualifications for the types of relationships we were created to crave.
- We need accepting relationships.
“Accept one another just as Christ accepted you.” (Romans 15:7)
- We need relationships with people who will speak truth to us.
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)
- We need relationships with people who will stick with us in hard times.
“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
God created us for these kinds of relationships. This explains why we crave them when we don’t have them and why we thrive when we do. So, think about that the next time you step into the summer heat: There’s actually something you need even more than a cool-down.
But where do we start? One of the best places to find this kind of community is inside a healthy church. If you want to hear more about the importance of meaningful relationships, check out Keith’s recent discussion on our podcast!
Posted by Keith Simon