On Combating Loneliness


image by : Lukas Rychvalsky

written 4/1/2019

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.

Source:

  1. 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/.
  2. 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.

Hope-Giver

 

written:  11/30/2018

Once I was lost and alone

Looking for hope and love

The true kind from up above

The kind that would never die

 

I was dealing with much pain

People caused me much hurt and strife

But you came into my life

And brought healing to my soul

 

You gave me true love and care

You gave me value and hope

When I was on my last rope

You are my great hope-giver

Butterfly

You thought no one would want you

You thought you were hideous

That none would truly love you

That you were doomed forever

 

But then you saw a bright light

Someone who saw your beauty

And not just an ugly sight

Giving you true hope inside

 

Despite all you have gone through

You are a true butterfly

And I will always love you

And the beauty inside you

Undeserved: Why Everything We Get Is A Gift

I believe that most of our problems in relationships stem from an “I-deserve-better” attitude.  This past Friday (at the time of this writing), a disgruntled former employee opened fire and killed five of his co-workers at a manufacturing facility, about a half hour from where I live. I attest one of the reasons why he got so angry was because he thought he truly deserved the job, and when his bosses fired him, everything in this former worker unraveled before him.  Though most of us would not murder when we don’t get what we think we deserve, we can still get tempted to get similarly angry when our “rights are being violated” or we think we aren’t “getting the good we deserve in this life.”  This causes us, me included, unfortunately, to become defensive and angry at those around us…and even at God.  However, a good thing to keep in mind, especially if you are a follower of Christ, is, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17a) and that we don’t really deserve anything!  When we have a mindset that everything good in this life is undeserved and is a gift of grace from above, this entitlement attitude starts to disappear. However, in the society we live in, especially if you live in a Western country, this entitlement attitude is deeply ingrained in us, me included, that I think we need to learn how to embrace the “gift” mentality instead.  Here are some things that I have learned about why we should strive to treat whoever and whatever comes our way as gifts, not as something “owed” to us.

When we think we are entitled to someone or something, we are not acknowledging that God really owns it all.  However, when we acknowledge that everything we get is a gift from God, we are recognizing His control and His power over our lives—an important aspect of true worship. My pastor said today that we must be willing to be a living sacrifice in order to truly worship God, and part of being a sacrifice is relinquishing our rights to His control.  If you work, even the money we “earn” from your job is a gift because it is God who gave you the abilities and skills to do your job well enough to be able to sustain employment and thus a paycheck! I wonder if the recent shooting on Friday could have been avoided if, when the man who shot five people at his job got fired, instead of getting angry at this perceived injustice, he just appreciated the money he had already gotten from his job and just appreciated the gifts he still had in his life more. 

When we see everything we have as a gift, and not something that someone “owes” us, we become more able to be content with life, even with its caveats and imperfections.  Think about how it feels when you get a gift that you totally do not expect or deserve.  Not only are you most likely to feel intense joy, but also, more likely, an overwhelming sense of gratitude and humility towards the person who gave you the gift.  When we strive to approach our lives the same way, each blessing we get will cause us to feel joy and gratitude.  However, when we think we are owed something or that we “earned” something, we are not as grateful because whatever we get is our due, anyway, or so we believe. This is why most of us get upset when we don’t feel we are getting what we perceive is owed us. We see it as an injustice, a violation of our moral rights.  However, if we take away the “scoreboard”  in our souls of things supposedly owed us, this anger has no longer has any place to reside, and will melt away.

When we see everyone and everything that is given to us as a gift, we tend to value them more.  For instance, if my friend gives me something that I perceive is from his or her heart and that is not owed me, I tend to want to take better care of it, so that I don’t lose the preciousness of the gift.  This not only applies to material gifts, it also applies to treating each person as a gift from above.  When we treat each person as a gift from above, instead of someone or something disposable or suited only to meet our needs, we tend to treat them better.  I have witnessed and heard in many different workplaces, unfortunately, of people being treated like disposable objects, or at best, tools, if you will, instead of the precious, complex image-bearers of God they are.  This mentality seems to be growing worse and more prevalent, not only in workplaces, but also in other social constructs as well.  However, when we go against the grain and strive to treat each person we encounter as the precious gifts they are, we can not only touch lives, we can change the world around us for the better.

father valuing his child as precious

When we acknowledge everything we get is a gift, not something we are owed, we are most ready to worship God rightly; we are more likely to be content and grateful with our lives, and we will value those around us more.  This week God has been teaching me over and over again that everything I get from Him is a gift, and not something I could really deserve or earn.  When I realize all that has been given to me, I realize that I am blessed beyond measure by a God who gives me more than I could ever deserve.

I Will Never Give Up On You  – a poem

written : 12/6/18

 

Through all your triumph and glory

When I see the light in your soul

And I see you becoming whole

I will never give up on you

 

Through all the laughter and the pain

Through the joy of being with you

Through all the good times and the bad

I will never give up on you

 

Though at times you will fall and fail

And you want to give up and bail

Because you don’t think you’re enough

I will never give up on you

 

Though sometimes you drive me insane

And there are times of stress and hurt

Where some people treat you like dirt

I will never give up on you

Beautiful Sunshine

 written on 12/27/2018

-Dedicated to I.T

Your presence shined like the sun

With joy and love, your area was run

You healed the depths of my pain

When I was going insane

 

You have taught me so much

About life, love, work and such

Your influence blossomed in me

‘Til your beauty I would see

 

But then you were gone away

Sadness and joy filled your last day

Though there is a hole in my heart

Your impact on me will never part

Glorious Joy

 written:  12/23/2018

I was in so much despair

Thinking I was beyond repair

Joy was not a part of my life

I was suffering from much strife

 

Everything seemed to go wrong

Life seemed to just drag me along

But then God rescued me

And His love I began to see

 

Like a growing tree, my joy grew

I learned contentment that was true

As I was led into the light

My life became a glorious sight