It’s getting to the point,
Where I’m no fun anymore,
I am sorry,
Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud,
I am lonely.
-Stephen Stills “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”
One of our time’s most significant spiritual and emotional challenges is loneliness. That may seem strange to say. There is an epidemic of gun violence in our country. There is a horrible land war in Europe. One of the largest countries in Africa is falling into a civil war, bringing instability and refugees throughout East Africa and the Middle East. The United States, China, and Russia seem bent on barreling toward another Cold War despite everything we learned about the futility of mutually assured destruction and that most of the former Soviet Union has yet to recover from being the Soviet Union. Despite these facts, loneliness is as great an immediate threat to millions of Americans, if not more so, than Vladimir Putin, China’s balloons, or a collapsing bank.
People rarely admit to their loneliness or come right out and say, “I am lonely.” To say one is lonely is often viewed as a tacit admission of personal failure. So instead, you’ll hear people say, “I’m having trouble keeping up,” or “These burdens I’m carrying are too much,” and “I don’t know what to do.” Undergirding each of those expressions is a sense of isolation. The person in question has no one other than themselves to talk with, share with, and carry life’s most important decisions. Regardless of their circumstances, loneliness is the eventual byproduct of such isolation. They believe and often do have no one (family, friends, or other relationships) to whom they can turn in times of crisis. Our society has stigmatized loneliness as it has depression. It’s okay to say you are lonely. It is okay to reach out for a relationship. Humanity is hard-wired for connection. To deny this reality is to deny the most fundamental part of our being.
Change is a constant in our lives. We know this. In the past three years, since COVID virus became a way of life, change has become even more dominant in how we see our lives and the world. Nothing remains the same. Church has forever altered into a hybrid model that will never return to the traditional 11:00 version we knew in 2019. Jobs that existed before the pandemic are gone forever. Millions of lives were lost. Our entire world was turned upside down. No wonder people feel lonely and discombobulated. What can we do?
I was inspired by this past week’s reading from Acts 2. It’s a reading that speaks out loud as an antidote to loneliness. See for yourself, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate the food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” The words “together,” “temple,” “they,” “ate,” “glad,” and “all the people” jumped off the page. People who are together in the temple, eating together with people, are glad and are much less likely to be lonely. So, there are solutions to our loneliness epidemic embedded in Acts 2:46. Community and relationships are the building blocks to addressing loneliness.
Specifically, how might “community” and “relationships” shape our lives? First, make 15 minutes for someone else. Or ask for 15 minutes for someone else. Then, even if you can’t talk to someone for 15 minutes, tell them you will call them back later in the day and give them your promise. Make contact. You have no idea what that promise means to someone plumbing the depths of loneliness. Do this every day. Someone you know is lonely and needs to hear a voice, specifically, your voice.
We should give them our full attention when talking to lonely people. Don’t be distracted by our phones or the time. Please give them your undivided attention. They deserve your best. Make this a golden rule moment. If you were lonely, how would you want to be treated?
Radical hospitality is a buzzword in United Methodism. We want our churches to be welcoming and hospitable places. We conceive of hospitality in institutional terms. Hospitality is not unique to Christian communities. Whether you are in a mosque, temple, synagogue, or a book club; you have a responsibility to be welcoming. However, it is also something we can extend and manifest as individuals. People can always be more welcoming to other people. This is one way all of us can work to address the loneliness epidemic. Are we friendly? Are we approachable? Are we looking for those outliers who say their burdens are more than they can handle? In short, do we see the world through the eyes of relationships, hospitality, and human connection?
Loneliness, like depression, will not go away overnight. However, there are ways we, as people of faith, can help the world feel less isolated, alone, and vulnerable in this season of constant change.
You must be logged in to post a comment.