A recent study by Cigna found that about half, or one out of every two Americans, feels lonely. (1). In the age where everyone and everything seem more closely connected than ever, especially by the Internet and social media, this statistic is particularly alarming. Moreover, a study by the CDC, found that suicide rates are also increasing by as much as 30% over the past decade (2). In fact, during junior high through my sophomore year in high school, when I felt the loneliness, I often had suicidal ideations. Thankfully, God, in His mercy and sovereignty didn’t allow me to go through with that option.
We were all created for community. Even when Adam was surrounded with animals, God acknowledged his need to be surrounded by at least one other person when God said in Genesis 1:18 (KJV), “It is not good that the man should be alone.” So, after that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Even Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose which the Father had for Him, had to be surrounded by people, at least some of the time. Believers in Christ or not, we are all created to be with at least one other person. This doesn’t have to be in the context of a romantic or marital relationship, but we do need some kind of relationship with another to truly be content with our lives.
When I was growing up, I didn’t really feel connected with my community at school and I rarely attended church. As I consequence, I struggled on and off with loneliness throughout most of my childhood. Many people, especially the younger generation, sadly feel the same way I did when I was growing up.
Though we are, in some ways, more connected to each other than ever, through phenomena like globalization and the Internet, we can also be more isolated. While we may have more virtual connections, our face-to-face connections as a society have suffered. Because many people may see that their face-to-face connections are suffering, instead of confronting this problem head on, they may be tempted to retreat into virtual reality. For instance, in my personal life, I found that when I am stressed and/or feel lonely, I tend to isolate myself more.
One of the things that God has taught me through all that, is not to isolate. For instance, about two weeks ago, I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed to go to church! However, later I decided I should try to go the evening Sunday school class at church, so maybe I’d feel better. Not only did I feel better, but some of my friends were able to help me through what had been causing me to feel depressed in the first place! Also, when we are part of a community, there is place for both accountability and vulnerability. (Yes, there are toxic communities where people will not feel safe to be vulnerable or accountable. In that case, I would find another, more genuine community, and not give up until I found the right one.) . In a community, we can learn from one another, be accountable, and can encourage one another. That is why, in Hebrews 11: 25, Christians are encouraged not to forsake the assembly of believers (i.e…Don’t neglect your local church community).
Another thing that God has been teaching me about combating loneliness is the connection between being lonely and the temptation to forge idols. I know several people who have turned to idols, whether it be smoking, workaholism, alcoholism, gambling, or a number of other life-dominating vices, because they sensed a void, or loneliness, in their lives. One of my pastors said that the reason that many people turn to idols because they have a mistrust of some aspect of the character of God.
So, God has been teaching me, that In order to combat true loneliness, I need to forsake any idols that I have used as a “filling in” for any of my perceived feelings of loneliness. One thing that I have realized combats both the loneliness and idolatry is basking in God’s presence and learning about and believing His character. In my class that I attend Thursday nights at church, when I learned about God’s steadfast love and that He would never leave or forsake me, through Scripture, I found that I became more joyful and more aware of His presence in my life. It goes without saying, that I no longer felt stressed or lonely that day, in dealing with life. Also, I was surrounded by a community of believers that were able to help and/or teach me to overcome some of my temptations to idolatry, so I would be less likely to fall into that trap again.
God has also been teaching me that some people are lonely because they feel afraid to forge connections with others, even though they may crave it. This may be due to a number of reasons, but one of the major reasons I found in what I have observed with people around me, is that people don’t want to forge connections because they are afraid of getting emotionally wounded by another person again. They have been wounded, manipulated, and/or betrayed by so many people in their lives; they would rather risk loneliness than be abused again. I don’t blame them for this reaction, but ultimately it will ruin them as well. I used to be one of these people who was afraid to be vulnerable and really connect with others, and thus, I was constantly depressed and lonely. However, I found that when I became vulnerable and was able to be myself that I not only became less lonely, but I also became more confident of who I was and where I was going in life. So, how was I able to be more “real” and “vulnerable” with others? First of all, I surrounded myself with people that really had my best interests in mind and were supportive and caring, even in my darkest times. I also strived to forgive those who had hurt me somehow. For instance, I forgave several managers at work who I had bitterness and anger against for a long time. Since a lot of people respected them, I sometimes felt alone. However, when I let go of my bitterness and start to consciously think good things about them, not only did I not feel alone anymore, my relationships with these managers also started to improve dramatically! Also, in order to not feel lonely for a prolonged period of time, we must persevere in forging relationships with others, even though it may be difficult at times. People may irritate us, be rude to us, or treat us unkindly, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on relationships completely. Also, God may want us to learn something, even if it is how not to be, from these rude or irritating people.
We were not created to be alone. That is why children and adults who are isolated from others for a long period of time, may have irrevocable damage and trauma from that experience. However, when we experience true unity among one another, we can find love, joy, fulfillment, and community in our lives that gives us purpose and hope for this hurting, broken world.
- Jenkins, Aric. (1 May 2018). Study Finds That Half of Americans — Especially Young People — Feel Lonely Fortune. Retrieved from: http://fortune.com/2018/05/01/americans-lonely-cigna-study/.
- Hedegaard, Holly, etal. , Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (June 2018). NCHS Data Brief, 309. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db309.htm.