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DEAR FATHER | Action — and Jesus — can lead you from isolation

After the COVID lockdowns, I continue to feel lonely and I find myself coping in unhealthy ways. How can I get back to normal?

What do social media, alcohol, poor internet usage, gossip and binge-watching TV shows have in common? They are often symptoms of the same underlying spiritual malady: isolation. You are not alone in struggling with habit re-formation since the lockdown.

The term isolation comes from the Latin insolatus, meaning “made into an island.” Our souls were made for communion, and when we are deprived of that, especially for an extended time, our happiness, social habits and relationships are impacted. When there is no spring of clean water from which to drink, one who is thirsty will drink from muddy puddles. So how might one return to a healthy place?

The most effective way to turn from drinking the muddy water is to begin drinking clean water. At times, we hesitate to try new things until we are in the mood for adventurous pursuits. Yet when we are in a low emotional season, this mood never seems to come. Habits are formed through repeated actions.

So the first step is to act! Join a group at your parish, volunteer to do service or invite an old friend to share a meal. Even if you are not feeling up to it, remember that feelings are fickle and will often change when we are in a different situation.

One of the best actions you can take is to reach out to someone about your loneliness. This can be a friend or a family member, or you might call your parish and ask if there is any ministry providing someone to talk to. The old proverb rings true: “When shared with a friend, joys are doubled and sorrows are halved.” Often just speaking to another person about our sorrows has great healing power for our souls.

You can also root out bad habits directly by substituting good ones. I once fell into the habit of drinking coffee in the late afternoon, and it would keep me awake at night. But every afternoon, I felt that desire for coffee. Then I discovered that exercising at that time has the same stimulating effect without the negative impact of nocturnal wakefulness. Now, when I feel that desire for afternoon coffee, I try to channel it into the healthier option of exercise. Finding a good activity can assuage your desires when you are tempted to engage in an unhealthy habit.

Most importantly, ask Jesus to lead you. He promised: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). He desires not only to be with us spiritually but also through His mystical body. Ask Him to guide you to the community that you need, and follow where He leads.

Father Charlie Archer is associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood.

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