‘All the lonely people; Where do they all come from? All the lonely people; Where do they all belong?’ These lyrics are from the 1966 Beatles song Eleanor Rigby, which became known as ‘the lament for the lonely’.
More than fifty years later, loneliness besets our society as never before. Statistics reveal that more and more people consider themselves lonely. One study I came across said that half of Britons over the age of 65 consider their television or pet their main source of company. And loneliness, particularly amongst the elderly, has increased during the corona crisis, as people are forced into isolation.
Loneliness causes people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people. (Kendra Cherry)
We are designed for relationship
We are social creatures. God designed us to need each other’s presence, comfort and encouragement. We need relational bonds—a sense of belonging where we both receive and give support. As a Christ-follower, I also believe that our primary relationship should be with God himself.
Situations that may lead to loneliness
Many situations can lead to disrupted relationships and loneliness.
We may move far away and have to start a new life in an unfamiliar place. That’s what happened to my daughter this year as she moved to work in a hospital nearly 5 hours away from us. Her feeling of isolation increased with the lock-down restrictions on movement, which made it difficult to get home to us or to socialise and establish friendships in her new environment.
The death of a spouse, or a divorce can suddenly leave us alone. We miss the other person’s quiet presence, the small talk we had over a coffee or the laughter over a shared memory.
It’s even possible to feel alone in a relationship, or in the middle of a group of people. Surely, an unhappy marriage must be one of the loneliest situations of all. At school, work, even church, we may feel like an outsider. We feel we don’t belong. We perceive ourselves as different. The people around us appear friendly but don’t seem to want us in their lives as a friend.
Being alone and being lonely aren’t the same. Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative. (Gretchen Rubin)
The dangers of loneliness
Studies are beginning to show the dangers of loneliness, not only on mental health, but even on physical health. Depression, suicide, increased stress levels, cardiovascular disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s are just some of the increased risks lonely people face.
What can we do?
I’ve come to realise that it’s nearly impossible to lift someone out of profound loneliness. We can’t replace what they had with their spouse or the circle of friends they’ve lost. We can’t instill in them a sense of their own worth and belonging (I believe only God can do that). But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reach out to those people on the edges of our lives, those who may very well be living what Henry David Thoreau called ‘lives of quiet desperation’. Let us be consistent friends and draw them into our lives and circles of relationships as best we can. Let us impart to them the sense that they are valuable to us and that their lives have great worth.
Blessing for the Lonely
May this blessing be an embrace
That draws you to the heart of Love.
May its arms encircle you
To warm the deep cold void.
May its words whisper:
You are enough.
You are cherished.
You are needed.
And may you believe these words to be true.
As you are strengthened by
Love’s embrace, may you:
Renew a gentle care for yourself.
Rekindle what has died inside.
Rediscover joy and delight in each day.
As you grow stronger still
May you become for others:
An embrace to the heart of Love
And words that speak of life and worth.
And may seeds of friendship grow from your kindness.
Other Blog Posts in this Series