In the early days, neighbors were few and far in-between. People were isolated by long distances, and socialization was dependent on occasional visits like church, or trips to town. As hard as it is to understand, today, neighbors are geographically closer, yet people are more isolated than ever.
The fast growth of social media has filled a need for many. However, the group that can often be most affected by loneliness is the elderly and the infirm. In England, a recent study concluded that 50 percent of those aged 80 or older were suffering from lack of support networks and loneliness. The same study reported that 10 percent of those aged 65 or older were lonely most of the time.
People who suffer from loneliness have a much higher rate of poor health, a decline of cognitive ability and increased illness. So what is the answer?
In the Bible, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, a traveler who took interest in a suffering man he came upon and provided for him compassionate care that went far beyond pity. The man wasn’t his relative or co-worker. He wasn’t even of the same nationality. What bound them together was the true definition of “neighbor.” My simple definition of being a neighbor is “being good for somebody.”
Studies have found that the No. 1 help for loneliness with isolated elderly is befriending, involving sustained one-on-one contact. We see the power of this in care facilities, where people are creating social networks among residents with shared interest and the sustained care of staff who become family. I’ve seen it in towns and churches where people assist elderly or infirm person by helping with grocery shopping, laundry, delivering the mail, etc. These acts of service not only help with necessary tasks, they also provide a social network that delivers much needed care and love on a one-to-one basis.
Being “good for somebody” works two ways. In many cases, the befriended neighbor becomes a valuable family asset. During my father-in-law’s funeral, a neighbor approached me and shared how much it had meant that our elderly parents had consistently remembered them and their children on their birthdays, even after moving away. They weren’t relatives, didn’t go to the same church, or even travel in the same social circles. They were neighbors.
At the conclusion of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked the question about who was the neighbor to the man who had needed help. The answer was obvious: “The one who had mercy on him.” Who is around you that you might show mercy to by befriending as your neighbor?
Information provided by Rev. Max Phillips, CEO, Partnership of Perry Lutheran Home and Spring Valley Assisted Living, 2323 E. Willis, Perry, (515)-465-5342 or (515) 465-7500.