A few months ago, someone in our monthly prayer group dropped an anonymous petition in the basket requesting prayers to handle her loneliness. In our next session, we addressed the problem of loneliness and how important spirituality is in facing it. As I began researching the reality of loneliness in our culture, I was surprised to learn how pervasive and harmful it has become in recent years.
Nicholas Kristoff, an opinion writer for the New York Times published an article (November 10, 2019) on the subject of loneliness. Relying on the research of Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University, Kristoff reported that loneliness is more lethal than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or than obesity, the latter killing 300,000 to 600,000 people a year in the United States. Kristoff notes that church memberships are diminishing along with other traditionally accepted social groups centered on art, music, books, hobbies. We are increasingly settling for the internet and iPhones in place of conversation and exchange of ideas.
Across the globe, countries are responding to this epidemic but only Britain has done something unique about it as a government. It has established – now read this slowly: a minister for loneliness. Yes, you read correctly, a minister for loneliness. The minister, Baroness Barron, started the campaign Let Talk Loneliness in which she offers grants to organizations for garden clubs, bird watching, and other groups to invite memberships. Social workers are in doctors’ offices to “prescribe” activities toward alleviating depression resulting from loneliness.
All of us are lonely at times. The question is, “What do we do about it?” Do we continue to slide in the cavernous cylinder around us, going nowhere but down, making us impervious to the joy of life that God wants us to have?
In this reflection, I am not thinking of clinical loneliness, the psychological type that requires professional assistance. Such loneliness is often brought on by physical illness or addiction or psychological distortion of mind and psyche. I am rather thinking of “ordinary” loneliness of self or others we know and love. I’m thinking of loneliness in a marriage, loneliness in one’s career, loneliness in a community. Whenever I am lonely, I am not happy.
The mass of research on this subject highlights two antidotes to loneliness: social involvement and deepening of spirituality. For the first, we need to get out of our comfort zones. Take risks of joining groups that will develop, enhance or even discover talents and interests that have been hidden for years by responsibility. For the second antidote, we need to carve out time to do some spiritual reading, or private prayer and meditation. We might explore getting a spiritual director. If we try both of these routes to diminish loneliness, we will find ourselves more open, more excited about life. We will be kind to ourselves and, assuredly, less lonely.
Can any of you share with us the ways you have addressed loneliness in your life? Many of you Anonymous Angels have something to say that might help others.
We know that Jesus had to be quite lonely as he lived his mission of redemption. Reflect on those times in the Christian Scriptures which describe his loneliness and try to imagine how he felt.