Loneliness: the 21st century disease

Massive change to society

What do you suppose has changed this world most rapidly and most profoundly in the past 2 decades… even the last decade? What has transformed the way we live, interact, study, learn… not what we study, but how we study? What is the single-greatest influence in recent years that has transformed the way people around the world live?

INTERNET! If I say it’s the internet would there be much opposition?

What do you suppose is the single-most crippling disease in recent years or even just months? Not Coronavirus, although Covid has certainly made this other disease more obvious… It isn’t heart disease, at least not literally… I would say, and this is just my opinion, but I’d say many would agree with me… The #1 disease in the 21st century is Loneliness…

Loneliness

Loneliness isn’t mental illness, per se, although sometimes it can be closely linked. Isolation has crippled our world — yes economically through the pandemic, but also this by-product: isolation has been around a lot longer than the pandemic. Isolation is largely a result of the internet.

While the internet has expanded our list of contacts, and has enabled people to link up with “long lost friends” — yours truly included — it has also created a shallowness to our relationships, because we have less time as we spread ourselves thinner and thinner with each person, and have less face to face time with one another.

It is vital that we learn how to enjoy our own company as a healthy basis for human relationships, and we’ve had plenty of that especially over the last 2 years. BUT BUT BUT as well as “me” time, we also need “we” time: time with me and Jesus time!

Time with Jesus

We need abiding time…. John 15:4 says,

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

This abiding with Jesus helps us tremendously. And we also need occasions to be with flesh and bone friends: for companionship, discussion, fun! … and of course, spiritually: iron sharpens iron.

Companionship

If I had to pick one single thing I miss most with my husband who has passed way, it is our conversations.

What does John write about companionship? Continuing in John 15:9-13,

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.”

Then he instructs the disciples: If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Inherent in this is that we have friends, we need friends, and Jesus recognises this.

Then he puts a bit of a definition about quality friendship in verse 13 when he says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

Jesus values friendship. We are not meant to be alone. GOD even said “in the beginning it is not good that man should be alone” and therefore He made female as well as male.

PART I: IDENTIFYING LONELINESS leading towards the #1 cure

First premise: We aren’t meant to be lonely. Being alone is not the same as being lonely…

What do human beings need for contentment as a way to deal with Loneliness? 

  1. Self acceptance — for Inner Peace: John 15:11 “joy may be full”. We need a ‘relationship with ourselves.’ To have ‘fullness of joy’ we need: i. acceptance of self ii. acceptance of circumstances iii. reaching out to others though calm, confidence and love iv have something to offer and v to be ready to receive also. In these ways, we experience fulfilment even when we are on our own.
  2. Relationship with GOD: We are made in His image, male and female. With our current gender blurring and natural/biologicial boundaries being removed, there is a lot of confusion. BUT we are wonderfully and fearfully made, Psalm 139: “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. There is one GOD who made us according to the Bible and He is in relationship: Father, Son, Holy Spirit (who perhaps has the most female personality aspects). Other gods are either remote or powerless. Here again in Psalm 139, David knows GOD does not leave nor forsake him, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence….

“If I ascend into heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning,

And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there Your hand shall lead me,

And Your right hand shall hold me.”

3. Loneliness and human relationship: Have you ever felt ‘alone in a crowd’? Have you been the centre of attention and yet felt completely misunderstood? Have you hidden your true self (we all do in some measure, don’t we?). These mark our sowing of loneliness. I recently watched a documentary about Cary Grant, the famous and award-winning actor during the 1950’s and onward. He and many Hollywood stars are prime examples of being famous and yet totally lonely. Have you or anyone else you know been the ‘scapegoat’ of the family and felt isolated as a consequence? Rather, have you been blessed with a great friendship in your life, either with a spouse of good friend? Look at David and Jonathan and what devoted friends they were? Friendship is valuable and to be valued. We are not meant to be alone.

PART II: SYMPTOMS of LONELINESS

  1. Loneliness and Hunger: Loneliness is like a hole, a void in our lives. It can ache, like hunger. So, what shall we fill it with? People-interaction or food? Comfort eating is a real problem in society today, with unhealthy snacks being the tasty temptation to fill/fix the problem rather than addressing it. Poor diet is just one health issue that can arise from loneliness. (more later…) But Matthew 5:6 says, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.”
  2. Loneliness and Pride: We are proficient at masking our pain when we don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable, or perhaps unpopular. But while masking our pain is sometimes prudent, often it can lead to rigidity, high blood pressure, anger that can explode inappropriately — and even provoke our isolation with a “superiority complex”. Our personalities can become distorted. On the fantasy extreme, look at the super hero foes… aren’t they often people who have been shunned, excluded from the crowd? And on a serious, very serious note, Adolf Hitler was denied art school and was a loner. One of the profile aspects to mass murderers, serial killers, psychopaths is their isolation. Taken to extreme, pride and loneliness can be a toxic combination. Left on his own, King Saul wrongfully offered sacrifice to GOD which brought down his reign. And of King Uzziah it is written in 2Chronicles 26:16 “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” Solomon wrote, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
  3. Loneliness and Despair: Depression, isolation, fear, emotional instability and insecurity all may stem from the barren landscape of the heart that is the result of long-term loneliness and the despair that comes with it. If we despair for any reason, how can we be revived? Psalm 119: 25 says, “My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word.” Spending time with the LORD and in His word lifts us from loneliness and all its consequences. This may be a temporary solution as we do also need human relationship in our lives. But GOD will bring us through if we will allow Him to do so.

PART III: AVOIDANCE TECHNIQUES to LONELINESS

  1. Loneliness and Busyness: “Be still and know that I am GOD” is repeated in scripture time and again. Without stillness, we can hide our loneliness behind activity. But overactivity can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, frustration and over-work. 
  2. Loneliness and (over)Eating: Poor diet and comfort eating is a way people cover up their pain, whether it is pain from loneliness or some other grief, anxiety or fear. But the medical consequences can be quite profound: diabetes, kidney disease are two serious diet-related illnesses. Cardio-vascular diseases can also result. Bad teeth / bad breath and obesity are results which are visually apparent. Rather than to feed our discomfort, we are meant to consider our bodies “the temple of the Holy Spirit”. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones.” When we try to manage our pain rather than deal with it, this is an example of ‘being wise in our own eyes” which brings destruction rather than well-being.

PART IV: CURE FOR LONELINESS:

  1. Search for, find GOD’s plan for your life: Jesus gave us clear instructions. i. A new commandment: to Love the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. and ii. To go into the world preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and raising the dead. This will not only keep us busy but also engaged with others. Jesus also gave us a new family to be a part of: the family of the Church. Yes, we’ve messed up His plan, taking it onto ourselves; but if we search hard enough, we will find a family of believers who will honour and accept, love and encourage us, especially as we seek to model it. We all have a particular plan for our lives, but whilst we may not know quickly and easily what that is for us individually (it took me 3 years of concerted effort to discover what my calling is; I’m still waiting for it to be fulfilled completely), we have plenty of opportunity to engage with others and have purpose, while we’re waiting for GOD to unfold His complete plan for us individually. Being transparent, open, vulnerable on the one hand and being compassionate, encouraging and kind to others on the other will draw people to us who will provide human contact which eases and removes loneliness.

CONCLUSION:

  1. Loneliness is not an incurable disease. Rather, as we mature and reach out to others, as we recognise we’re meant to be part of a family, and recognise that following GOD is not a religious activity but a relationship-based life, as we are willing to go to GOD through His Word and His people, and as we resolve to be healed, so we will become whole. When we practise the great commandment to love GOD and love others, our isolation will end. “ In Him, may we live and move and have our being” both individually and corporately… Amen.

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