Thirteenth century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II devised an experiment to determine the original language of the world. He isolated a group of babies with nurses who never spoke to them and touched them only to feed and bathe them. The emperor’s curiosity about language remained unanswered, for the babies all died before they were old enough to speak. Without loving, compassionate touch and interaction, the infants could not survive. In more recent times, this failure to thrive has also been observed in babies raised in understaffed orphanages in other countries.
Devotion: Forever Fellowship
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b)
It’s not just babies who need interaction to survive. Why is solitary confinement such a dreaded punishment for prisoners? Humans need fellowship. Sure, we crave time alone every now and then, especially after a long day of dealing with people in the workplace or chasing toddlers at home, but after a time we would begin to long for human companionship. In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks’ island-stranded character resorts to making a friend out of a salvaged volleyball, Wilson, which energizes him to persevere and survive.
Contemporary communication-obsessed culture reflects this deep human need for fellowship. We can IM or text-message our friends in the next room or across the world. We even have camera phones so we don’t have to wait an hour to get home to share our digital pictures. But however instantaneous, these technological types of fellowship aren’t good enough–we also get together for coffee, we do lunch, we hang out. We have birthday parties, we attend family reunions, we share holiday meals. Why? Because presence is crucial to this longing for fellowship. If you’ve gone through a period of deep personal grief, you know that having friends just be there is the best comfort they can offer.
That’s why it hurts so much to be rejected, to be the odd one out, to be the last one picked for teams and groups, to be bullied in the locker room and whispered about by the in cliques. Being ostracized like this, which often occurs most markedly during the teenage years, can be deeply scarring, because we are created to be in meaningful fellowship with other human beings.
Of course, puberty is a notoriously thin-skinned time, and then, too, there are times when being rejected, mocked and even persecuted is a badge of courage–when it results from standing firm in the faith amid an unbelieving world (see Philippians 1:29, e.g.). But the everyday rejection that many teens face, which is so pervasive that many adults dismiss it as an inevitable part of growing up, shouldn’t be passed over so lightly. The legitimate human need for meaningful fellowship is so deep that young people are driven to unimaginable lengths to fit in, and to despair, even suicide, when they cannot.
In this earthly realm, there’s no perfect solution to this problem. There’s no way to make every arrogant jock more sensitive or every mean girl more empathetic. But this at least we can do: we can remind those who suffer worldly rejection that their deepest longing for fellowship will never be met by any mere human. While we can and should offer our presence to those rejected by the worlds standards, we can do even more by pointing them to the Presence they need never be without. We can guide them to meet Him in the Word and at the altar, there to receive a taste of the Real Presence, a foretaste of the eternal communion, the ultimate fellowship with Him and all believers.