Recently I have been enjoying watching the American TV reality show titled ‘Alone’. The show follows the self-documented daily struggles of 10 individuals as they survive alone in the wilderness for as long as possible using ten items that they have chosen to help survive. Apart from medical check-ins, the participants are isolated from each other and all other humans. In the most recent season participants attempt to survive for 100 days in the Arctic in order to win a one-million-dollar prize.
These participants face all the struggles that come with being truly alone in the wilderness, but they aren’t your average weekend campers. They are all highly experienced in survival techniques and know a thing or two about building shelters, trapping, hunting, ice fishing and how to use every part of an animal to your advantage. It turns out musk ox brains makes quite a good moisturiser to repair skin damage from the blistering artic winds. I hope I never find myself in a position to use that information!
Watching participants use their survival skills to overcome the conditions is enthralling. However, as the contestants progress through each day, it becomes apparent that the greatest challenge to overcome is not the daily struggle to find food and water. The most significant hurdle to overcome is the mental pressure of being alone. We all know that long periods of being alone is not a pleasant experience. During the pandemic many of us have had had our own periods of isolation to deal with. Being alone has such an impact on humans that the United Nations declare that more than 15 days of solitary confinement is officially considered torture. What is it about being alone that is so damaging to our souls? Why do we yearn for connection and relationship?
God’s word tells us that we have been created in His image. Just as God is a relational being who desires to be with His people, we have been created in His likeness to also desire relationship. In Genesis, we learn that God created the world and everything in it, and his creation is described at each stage as good. The first thing that is described as not good, is that man would be alone (Genesis 2:18).
Being in relationship with others gives us the opportunity to fully reflect the character of God. To love, forgive, empathise and serve all require other people. When we live life in community, we have the opportunity to honour God with our actions. This can present challenges, and while the learning can be painful, we also grow and become more Christ-like as we treat others as God would treat them. While each of us has been blessed with many gifts from God, no one person has every gift. In Romans 12:5 we read, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Our differences are intentional and enable us the blessing of serving others. God blesses us with people in our lives, but our most significant relationship will always be with the one who promises us abundant life. The importance of this connection is described in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Staying connected to the vine sustains us and enables us to live a purposeful life that blesses others.
The importance of relating in learning is reflected in our Building Purposeful Lives (BPL) framework. The ‘Relate’ quadrant is supported by the learning dispositions of empathising, collaborating, emulating and communicating. To grow our social skills we reflect on how we interact, why we interact that way, and how to improve in order to form and maintain strong, positive connections with others. Relating through service in community is how to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Perhaps a blessing of recent times is that our young people, and in fact all of us, know how good it is to not be alone. We can support them to navigate the challenges of community by helping them to reflect on the following questions: How can we empathise, collaborate, emulate and communicate to strengthen community? Assisting our young people to grow these relational skills will bless their lives and the lives of those around them.