Loneliness. Arguably the scourge of our modern society. But what exactly is it and who does it affect?
The general definition is that it is a state of mind which can lead to a wide range of physical, emotional and mental health problems. It does not necessarily affect people who live on their own nor is it particularly someone who is more introverted. People can still feel lonely when they are in the middle of a group of people at a party – its how you feel inside that dictates the emotion.
Quite understandably, bereavement of someone close and “empty nest syndrome” are just two of the reasons why people can suddenly feel isolated but it can also be as a result of life changes or circumstances; altered living arrangements; having financial problems, etc. Increasingly, in more recent years, the nuclear family has broken down to a large extent and relatives and friends do not necessarily live close by so a lonely person can feel they have little or no support.
Some people never feel lonely and cherish their peace and quiet, filling their time with activities or contacting others via social gatherings, on the phone or online.
The signs of loneliness are many and varied: an inability to connect with others; no close or ‘best’ friends; overwhelming feeling of isolation regardless of where you are or who’s around; negative feelings of self-doubt and self-worth; when you reach out and it’s not reciprocated; exhaustion and burn-out; may become a side-effect of a medical or emotional problem. All this can lead to depression, anxiety, stroke or heart disease, nor is loneliness exclusive to any one personality type.
Retirement can also be a joy or a scourge. It can be the start of a new joyful life with fulfilling hobbies or interests or it can be a very slippery slope to despair and hopelessness. However, help is at hand in so many directions if the lonely person can just pick up the courage to make an effort to join in local community groups such as a church, special interest clubs, walking or singing groups; gym or dance classes, etc.
Graham – We know that Jesus often spent a lot of time on his own going into the desert to pray. Would you describe him as a lonely person? In biblical times, the nuclear family had much stronger ties and dependency on each other so perhaps social isolation wasn’t so much of a problem then. Are there any biblical references to loneliness or do you have any other religious theories to put forward?
Rev Graham replies:
Thanks, Carol, for your question about loneliness and your assessment of what it entails and how it can affect each one of us. The Ache of Loneliness can be a state of mind but it certainly affects us in a physical and situational form which feels very real because of past and present experiences that influence how we live and perceive the future.
It is interesting that you question whether or not Jesus would have been a lonely person? In many respects the call and ministry of Jesus was to be a lonely one and that compares so often with all leadership positions which for various reasons can be very lonely. During the travels and ministry of Jesus, he was often tired and sought out times of quietness so as to rest and recharge his body, mind and spirit. I don’t think that was because he was sad and lonely but used time on his own to gain strength for his life and calling.
When we look up to the sky and see a cluster of stars shining brightly in the night sky, we might find that there are many who shine very brightly and continuously alongside those whose light flickers and dims and almost looks like fading. Within family and social settings we may feel happy and assured yet, on other times and occasions, we may feel very vulnerable and lonely. Conversely, we may feel unsure within a certain group of people but internally very confident, assured and at peace. We can shine brightly but we also may fade a little. Our light may become dimmed yet within we are happy and at peace.
There are many references in the bible of individuals who have felt alone and sought the comfort and care of God and felt rejected by people around them. We have Adam in the Garden of Eden who was granted a soul-mate, Eve, because it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2: 18). Hagar, whilst pregnant with Ishmael, was driven away from her home by Sarah who was without child. The angel of the Lord visited Hagar and she confessed that she had seen the one who had seen and acknowledged her so with confidence she could go back and serve under Sarah and Abraham (Genesis 16: 7-14).
Lot and his family felt alone and fearful for their lives against all the evil which prevailed in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah but the angels of the Lord protected and rescued them (Genesis 19). The prophet Elijah felt a sense of isolation in the face of opposing forces to the point of being suicidal yet, after a quiet whisper from the Lord, his confidence and strength was renewed (1 Kings 19). King David expressed his feelings of loneliness in his writings: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16), “Look and see, there is no one at my right hand, no one cares for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life” (Psalm 142:4).
David gives a further description of loneliness: “I am like a desert owl among the ruins. I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.” (Psalm 102: 6-7). Here the setting of the roof is significant in that roofs in Old Testament times were often places to socialise, sleep and worship. Jeremiah, who is known as the weeping prophet, experienced isolation and loneliness as he distanced himself from his sinful peers so as to fulfil his leadership and prophetic calling and continually sought solace in and from the Lord (Jeremiah 15: 15-17).
There is the case, which is often overlooked, that people may experience loneliness as part of God’s judgment or restoration because they have turned their faces against God and gone their own way so knowing the exclusion of God’s loving and personal presence as witnessed in (Lamentations 1). Job felt lonely and misunderstood, especially from his family and friends, and found comfort alone with a piece of pottery on a heap of ashes (Job 2: 8- 10). Thanks Joaquin pexels.com
The apostle Paul knew loneliness when sharing with Timothy that “nobody came to my support but everyone deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:16). Jesus experienced loneliness in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion (Matthew26: 36-46) and while on the cross (Matthew 27:46) that is an echo from (Psalm 22) with cries of abandonment and that sense of being forsaken by Father God.
Jesus called his disciples individually to train to be leaders and followers and serve their communities irrespective of them being accepted or rejected. They had to endure the difficulties of life after Jesus and travelled and suffered in their own individual ways for the sake of the gospel. The bible offers many promises that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will make a significant difference to all who feel lonely and downcast for “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31: 6-8) and to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 10).
Many people do find it a challenge to be on their own and have to contend with their own thoughts and feelings. To compensate during times of quietness and loneliness, they may fill their life with noise and activities in crowded places which masks any sense of loneliness or troubled minds and feelings.
In conclusion, Carol, I think various aspects of feeling lonely is part of our natural state and why we are always looking for deep and meaningful relationships. The Ache of Loneliness goes back to that break in relationship between the Lord and Adam and Eve. It is only when that ache is healed and restored that we are truly able to embrace a Joy of Companionship, both spiritually and from a human point of view, and in that context we are never alone whatever life challenges come our way.
As Christians and as a church we are like those stars which shine at night and the sun by day. We are lights set upon a hill for all to see and to reflect God’s wonderful creation and his power and spirit to radiate our inner being just like Christ dwelling fully in our hearts through faith which can expel any feelings and seasons of loneliness as expressed in (Ephesians 2: 14-17).
In times of loneliness there is ‘one who sticks closer than a brother’ (Proverbs 18: 24) and we have a promise that “God sets the lonely in families” as found in Psalm 68: 6. So may we be reminded of that great hymn that declares “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”
Carol encourages you to:
Talk to a Minister,your doctor, a therapist or another health professional about your state of mind and emotions. Engage with other people in a positive and healthy way.
Consider volunteering or working for a charity; take up new hobbies; try work-out groups which can boost your self-esteem and provide a safe and satisfying way to relate to others.
Get some exercise and sunlight – this can elevate endorphins and serotonin – the “brain hormones” – which can boost mood, help improve sleep and make people happy.
PREMIER LIFELINE – premier life line 0300 111 0101
CHRISTIANS TOGETHER AGAINST LONELINESS – ctal.uk
CARE FOR THE FAMILY – care for the family 029 2081 0800
THE CARELINE – 0300 772 7756
AGE UK – www.ageuk.org.uk Tel: 0161 746 3940 (Trafford) 0161 833 3944 (Manchester).
INDEPENDENT AGE – www.independentage.org/advice-guides/feeling-lonely
Helpline – 0800 319 6789.
MARMALADE TRUST – www.marmaladetrust.org Tel: 07566 244788
NHS – www.nhs.uk
SIXTY AND ME.COM
MIND – www.mind.org.uk Infoline: 0300 1233393
UNIVERSITY OF THE THIRD AGE – Clubs in many areas – look online.
WOMEN’S INSTITUTE – Clubs in many areas – look online.
How can God forgive Terrorist?
How would God view outside intervention?
Prostitution- Power of pressure?