But there’s another type of aloneness that doesn’t energise and refresh – that’s loneliness. Wikipedia describes loneliness as “an unpleasant feeling in which a person experiences a strong sense of emptiness and solitude resulting from inadequate levels of social relationships.” Loneliness has a number of causes – relationship breakdown, conflict, loss of friends and family, loss of mobility or health, reduction in income, moving to a new community or only having connection with others via social media such as Facebook.
Todd Harper, CEO of VicHealth says, “Loneliness is a growing problem in our society. There will be an estimated 3.7 million Australians living alone by 2026.” He goes on to say, “Recent research has shown social isolation can be as harmful for health as smoking cigarettes, and the evidence is stacking up that people with more friends live longer.”
Loneliness has also been described as “social pain”. That’s an interesting definition because pain is a friend that comes to warn us of impending danger so that we can take action to avoid it. Loneliness then is a mechanism meant to motivate us to seek social connections.
The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr. Peter Jensen, last year described loneliness as “one of the major problems confronting society, the result of an emphasis on the individual at the expense of a commitment to other people.” I agree. And this individualism can even creep into our Christian faith so that we think it’s all about “Jesus and me!” Some Christian songs reflect this view such as “All I need is you Lord.” We need to remember that even the first human – who had a perfect relationship with God – was still alone, and God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God’s solution to loneliness was the company of another human being (Genesis 2:18). And this is still God’s solution – and a major reason why Jesus is building his church –to create a stable community in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.
But church attendance per se will not cure loneliness. You can be in a crowd of people and still feel lonely. Loneliness is cured when we get to know others and are known by them. This takes time and can be difficult especially if you’re shy, but it’s important to take some small steps in order to rise above loneliness – join a Connect Group at your church, volunteer with a group of people to serve others, get involved with shared activities you are genuinely interested in, like a hobby or sports team.
Being with people who are focusing on an activity you all enjoy can quickly lead to close personal bonds being formed. You may also need to look at developing your social skills. If you find yourself always talking about your problems other people will quickly get tired of hanging around you.
Mother Theresa said, “Loneliness is the most terrible poverty.” Jesus came to set us free from all kinds of poverty and call us to be in community with other people – to “do life” with them, to love and be loved!