April 2, 2017
April 2nd, 2017
Loneliness does not necessarily mean that we’re alone. [although, being alone sometimes contributes to feelings of loneliness]
Instead, loneliness is something we experience when we feel that no one cares for us. [At least no one who is currently part of our lives. Sometimes friends and family don’t help because they aren’t present with us.].
I read that loneliness is more common in our age than at any other time in history.
In fact, along with stress, anxiety, and depression, loneliness the most common emotional ailment in our modern society.
Persistent feelings of loneliness is not only emotionally painful, but is linked to a decline in physical and mental health as well. In fact loneliness can lead to anxiety and depression, reduces the immune system and cardiovascular functioning.
It seems that there is a greater percentage of people admitting to being lonely than at any other time in human history.
Maybe part of it has to do with the fact that people in Western society are now connected more through social media and less through living relationships.
[I was at a restaurant recently and next to me was a group of four young people who ate their meal pretty much in silence. My sister who was there commented to me that this may be because they are so used to using social media to communicate.
Some people collect friendships like stamps, and feel bad or good about how many or how little they have.]
Now the reality is that most of us want to feel loved and appreciated. We want to feel that someone cares for us.
And sometimes we think that our own happiness depends on it: I can only be happy, if I feel loved and appreciated. Or stated negatively:
So people do all kinds of things, sometimes negative and destructive, to feel loved and appreciated. In fact, some people will do just about anything to avoid the emotional distress and pain of feeling lonely or unwanted or unloved.
They may throw overboard their own moral convictions. They may mistake getting drunk or high with some buddies with experiencing genuine friendships and with having fun.
Loneliness in and of itself is not necessarily a problem. The problem could be what we do to deaden the feeling of loneliness. “I wish I hadn’t done that, gone there, gotten into our relationship.”
Maybe you know of individuals who have stayed in an abusive relationship too long because they were afraid of being lonely (alone?). Maybe you know of others who have compromised their own values and conscience in order to avoid loneliness.
I sometimes think of doing things to cover up emotional pain is a bit like using a white noise machine. We have a white noise machine which we turn on at night. We do this to cover up other noise that might keep us awake ... actual noise like the TV or Kathy’s snoring ... or my snoring. In other words, it doesn’t get rid of the other noise, it simply masks it.
So some people use a form of white noise to mask their emotional pain of feeling unwanted or lonely.
[They will do whatever they need to in order to get rid of the emotional pain of feeling isolated or unloved. They may seek to deaden the pain of loneliness with drugs or alcohol. They may focus on partying, become promiscuous, all in the attempt to feel wanted and loved.]
If we feel that no one cares for us, then it’s quite possible to feel lonely even when we are surrounded by people. In fact, we can have lots of “friends” but still feel lonely because we know that no one will actually show up if we have a problem.
In other words, we lack meaningful connections or relationships - others who we know us, care for us, who love us and cherish us.
In fact, some people may make us feel lonelier when we are around them because we know that they simply don’t care about us - the relationship is a one-way street or just a fleeting acquaintance.
On the other hand, we can feel content even when we’re all alone. In fact, I can learn to enjoy solitude. There is nothing wrong with enjoying being alone.
So when do we experience loneliness? Well, there are a host of reasons. In school we may experience loneliness if we are bullied and it appears as if everyone is against us.
We may experience loneliness after a break-up or after a divorce, or after the death of a marriage partner. This is particularly true if, during the time when we were dating or married, we limited our friendships and contacts to the other person in the relationship.
Or we may feel lonely because we moved away from friends and family members. When we get older and we are the last of our generation, that too can be a time of great loneliness, particularly since the younger family members are busy living their own lives.
The reality is that we were created as social beings. We were created to be in meaningful relationships. As we read in Genesis:
YHWH God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will create a suitable helpmate for him.” ... Man named all of the different domestic animals, all the wild land animals, and all the birds who flew in the sky, but none of these were a suitable helper for him. Genesis 2:18,20
Although having pets can and will solve some of our issues when it comes to loneliness - particular if we are isolated - humans were created primarily for meaningful human relationships.
When we think of the church as an institution, we really don’t get the biblical concept at all. Ekklesia, the Greek word for church, literally means the assembly, but the apostle Paul made it clear in his letter to the Corinthian Christians, that the church was really about being in meaningful relationship with others:
The gifts of the Spirit (spiritual gifts), he writes about, were to be used in service to others and had to be motivated by love (otherwise they were meaningless). In other words, the relationships within the church have to go beyond the acquaintance level.
If the church is simply an institution, yes, by all means, it can be irrelevant, tired and useless. But if the church functions as the Bible describes it, as a loving community, it simply cannot be those things.
Of course, if a church has more than 20 people who attend, then in some way, this concept breaks down. In fact, I cringe somewhat at the name of our church because, given our numbers, we can be Friendly Community Church on any given Sunday, but the Friendship Community Church only exists when people actually meet in smaller groups outside of Sunday mornings.
[Imagine a group of self-professed friends playing in a golf tournament and a 65 year old man has a heart attack and dies while playing the 16th green. There he lays, covered with a sheet while course officials try to contact his wife and the coroner’s office. Meanwhile those following him in the tournament simply play through. Their agenda was to finish the tournament. They really cared very little for the dead man. This actually happened in 1992 in Florida. Those were not friends. They did not care for the man enough to put aside their superficial agendas.]
We are social creatures. We were created for contact with others. And so when we do not have someone of significance in our lives we may be forgiving for thinking that there is no real point to our life, even though it is “stinking thinking.”
No one loves me. I am a loser. There’s something wrong with me. There’s something wrong with others - everyone I know is uncaring or mean. I don’t have a single friend.
When we think something along these lines, we have probably forgotten that loneliness is a feeling, an impression, and that I we honestly assess our lives, we might not be nearly in as bad as a position as our feelings indicate.
We may not be as isolated and alone as we feel. Which is not to make light of the feelings we do have and which, from time to time, can be overwhelming.
The reality is that all of us feel lonely from time to time. It isn’t something that is unusual or to be avoided or deadened at all costs.
And for most of us, the antidote to loneliness is to put ourselves out there, to actually seek contact and meaningful relationships. So there is a lot we can do.
We can phone up a family member or friend who cares for us. We can reach out and share what’s happening in our lives and ask what’s happening in theirs.
Sometimes reaching out online works, although there are so many dangers ... not everyone is safe and there are many a predator who feeds off loneliness.
We could join a painting or art class, take a seminar or workshop, learn a language or a new skill or a hobby, join a book club or writing club or a drama group. We could attend or start a home group. There is so much we can do to find others who share similar interests.
When we feel lonely it may be a good opportunity to do something we want to do but always find excuses why we don’t do it.
We can get active, walk, exercise, swim, take dancing lessons, If we need motivation to walk or we simply cannot find a human walking partner, we can get a dog - as long as we realize just how much responsibility it is to take proper care of it.
We can take the risk of being rejected by initiating conversations. However, we need to be more interested in the other person than simply talking ourselves. We need to ask questions and really listen. We need to be curious about others and what is going on in their lives.
Listening to someone is actually honouring them because we indicate to them that we really are interested in them.
If all we do is talk about ourselves, we dishonor the other person, which means they will turn away from us.
Also a great thing for us to do is to volunteer or to intentionally look for ways to offer lovingkindness and generosity and compassion to others who may be worse off than we are. This may not feel natural to begin with, but everything starts with a choice. By focusing on the need and feelings of others, we won’t be so prone to focus on our own feelings and needs.
We can walk down the sidewalk or sit on a bench, silently thanking God for the diversity of people around us, and praying and wishing them good health and a good life.
Do you realize that chronic loneliness makes us increasingly sensitive to, and on the lookout for, rejection and hostility? Lonely people immediately think the worst. If someone is quiet then a lonely person assumes that they are mad at them for some reason and are intentionally giving them the cold shoulder.
Lonely people remember the negative things that happened during an encounter with another person, and fewer positive things. Which leads to negative expectations about others and hypersensitivity to signs of possible rejection. This is stinking thinking.
Lonely people need to recognize and challenge stinking thinking for what it is in order to break the cycle of negative thoughts that keep them from experiencing closeness with others.
And for many who take those steps, it actually works. They become more connected and feel less lonely.
However, it doesn’t work for some people. They may lack social skills, or they may struggle with mental illness, or they may be painfully afraid of rejection or abandonment that will short-circuit attempts at reaching out to others or communicating appropriately with others.
Others may have such hurtful relatives and family members that contacting them may be worse than feeling lonely. They may have “friends” who aren’t friends at all, but only use them. Friends who ridicule them, who are mean and loud and uncaring and angry. One-way relationships is the opposite of being in community.
Nevertheless, it is possible that there will be just one or two people who may in fact understand what such individuals are dealing with and going through. A few who can empathize with the painful shyness, the fear of rejection, the mental illness.
So it may still be possible to find one or two good friends, and, when appropriate, to nourish those friendships with time and attention. Different from glomming on to someone, which is a surefire way of turning them away.
Some people may be dealing with other mitigating circumstances or personality traits, such as being self-centered or self-absorbed, traits that will cause others to avoid them.
But the reality is that people can make the choice to become less self-absorbed, less self-centered, less selfish. They can chose to become better listeners and more caring and kind.
People can chose to be more positive and pleasant, complimenting and encouraging others rather than criticizing, nitpicking and putting them down.
In fact, I have heard it said that if we become genuinely interested in others, then we will never be unable to connect.
But there is also a spiritual side to our loneliness.
Think about this for a moment. Jesus was tortured and died on the cross to make it possible for us to be in relationship with God himself. Jesus endured the horrors of crucifixion and the feeling of abandonment as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” - all so that we can be forgiven and know that we are accepted and loved by God.
And yet, and yet, we often do so little to make more of that relationship. We can speak with God, meditate on him. We can find a quiet spot and try to connect with God and listen to his voice - try to hear from him. We don’t have to do a lot of talking, although praise and thanksgiving tends to make our loneliness go away.
Loneliness is a cry from the soul, “I need something. Something is not right with me. This isn’t the way it should be.”
Some of us think of loneliness as an accusation. We point the finger at ourselves and tell ourselves that there is something wrong with us, that we are damaged goods.
I think that loneliness is, first of all, a sign that we were made for intimacy, and I don’t mean this in a sexual sense, but an emotional sense. Loneliness may be an indication that we have withdrawn because dealing with people may seem to be too painful. It is a warning sign.
Secondly, I see loneliness as an invitation to do what is necessary to experience a greater connection with others, to focus on them, not as someone to meet my needs, but for me to help them. And hopefully, those relationships will become a place where we are understood and accepted and loved.
Thirdly, I see loneliness as an invitation to draw closer to God. If there is a God, the Creator, the heavenly Father, if he actually exists, but still is invisible, then as Jesus challenged his followers, our primary task is to seek after and search for him.
I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words to the Athenians on Mars Hill as recorded in Acts 17..
The God who made the world and all things in it ... determined ... that people should seek God, perhaps reach for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:24,27
We find this promise of God to his people as spoken by the prophet Jeremiah (no overhead for this verse):
You will seek me and you will find me when you search for me with all your heart. And I will be found by you.
We may sometimes think or feel that God is far from us. That he is distant and quiet and hard to reach. But I know that this isn’t so. He is but a prayer away.
We have many promises recorded in the Bible with regard to how close God will be to us. Here are just four:
Draw close to God and he will draw close to you.
Be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18
Sometimes our own loneliness can drive us to experience a deeper, more meaningful relationship with our Creator, for which we were designed.
Even in a season of persistent loneliness we need to hold on to the fact that we cannot be separated from our Creator. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
[Most lonely in my life - when living in Munich by myself. In a city of over 1 million people, this crowded metropolis. 2 years of extreme loneliness ... no ability to phone or skype with Kathy at that time.
The loneliness I experienced may pale in comparison to your loneliness.] Still, I would say that we can be alone without being lonely if we feel seen, heard and valued ... something that can happen with God.
So here are some closing thoughts:
I should not live my life based solely on my feelings
Whether we recognize it or not, there is usually someone out there who cares for us. And even if there isn’t, God does. We can know that we are not alone.
I should not make regrettable choices to deaden my feelings
We can have all kinds of negative coping mechanisms. And they will create a lot more problems than they will solve.
I should not allow my feelings to isolate me.
Loneliness can lead us to be hypersensitive to signs of rejection and keep us from engaging with others or drawing back from them.
However, we were meant to be in community. So I can take steps to be in community with others ... and most importantly, to accept God’s invitation to intimacy, to being close, to him.
Let me go back to the premise that I mentioned at the very beginning:
PREMISE: Loneliness does not necessarily mean that we’re alone. Instead, loneliness is something we experience when we feel that no one really cares for us.
Give all your worries and cares to God because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
 In: Ron Vietti, Tribal Influence: How to Recognize and Influence Your Tribe Chapter 1 - the need to belong (nCourage Media, 2014).
 Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Matthew 6:33