All Alone

I recently read an article in The Atlantic about a study that was begun in 1937 and continues to this day.  It set out to determine predictors of well-being throughout an entire lifetime.  268 Harvard students (all male, since Harvard was not yet co-ed) entered the study.  Over the last 72 years, they have participated in interviews and tests of various kinds.  Most served during WWII.  Most were married.  Many were divorced.  Some at first appeared to excel in life but later gave way to depression, alcohol abuse and family strife.  Others faced hardship with courage and optimism.  Some made fortunes.  Some lost them.  Some never became rich.

So of course, the big question: What are the predictors for happiness over a life time?  It’s always a little risky to draw too hasty of a conclusion, but certain themes do rise to the surface. Generally speaking, people who are happy over the long run have a relatively stable marriage and are members of a church or spiritual community.  Once a person’s basic needs are being met, money does not seem to contribute largely to their happiness.

But the author of the Atlantic article does relate that: “In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, George Vaillant, one of the study’s directors, was asked, ‘What have you learned from the Grant Study men?’ Vaillant’s response: ‘That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.’”

Loneliness is very difficult for most of us to endure.  I am basically an introvert.  After a while of being with people I have to recharge by being alone.  But I never confuse that with actually wanting to live a life of solitude.  I need my friends and family.  I need to have relationships with others.  I need people to celebrate with.  And most importantly, I need someone beside me when I’m suffering.

As I read Mark’s account of the trial and execution of Jesus this week I was struck this time by just how alone Jesus is.  I don’t know how many times I’ve read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, but every time something new jumps out at me.  This time it wasn’t the gratuitous violence he suffered or the injustice of the trial.  This time I couldn’t help but notice that Jesus was terribly isolated when he suffered all of this.  In some sense, he was even separated from God.

This would be a terrible, tragic, irredeemable story if not for the fact that Jesus was doing all of this for you and me.  And if not for the fact that God made all things right by raising him from the dead and giving us the hope that we have for resurrection.  But this morning, before we celebrate, let’s take a moment to honor the great sacrifice that Jesus offered on our behalf.