Once, being lonely was a very personal problem. It still is.
But almost surreptitiously, it has morphed into a colossal scare. There are more lonely ones, lots more, but they are not coming together. And not likely to go away anytime soon.
Minecraft billionaire Markus Persson took to social media to whine about his loneliness, complaining about waiting for his friends to finish work, while sitting "watching my reflection in the monitor".
“America is suffering an epidemic of loneliness,” declared Arthur C Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute in October, 2018. He cited a large-scale survey from the health care provider Cigna, that most Americans suffer from strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of significance in their relationships. Nearly half say they sometimes or always feel alone or “left out”. Thirteen percent of Americans say that zero people know them well.
Across the Atlantic, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said tackling loneliness is a “national mission” as the Government announced plans to plough millions of pounds into a new scheme to reduce it (Liza Bates in “PoliticsHome”). She noted: “Loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.” According to GPs (general medical practitioners) who are in front-line care, around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
Fr Martin Boland, Dean of Brentwood Cathedral in England, penned some thoughts, raising questions for our consideration. He asked: “Is it true that loneliness is a distinguishing feature of humanity? Are loneliness and industrialisation, urbanisation and, in more recent times, technological ‘alienation’, causally linked? Is loneliness historically or culturally determined, a post-Cartesian, Western preoccupation? Is it a psychological neurosis, a form of narcissism? Are the terms ‘aloneness’, ‘solitude’ and ‘isolation’, properly understood and are they reducible to a fear of loneliness? Does loneliness, in fact, exist, or as a university student once assured me: ‘We have cured loneliness. We invented Facebook’?”
Loneliness does not afflict the rich or developed countries only. In many Third World economies, the elderly remain in isolated villages while the younger generation migrate to the cities to find education, employment and, hopefully, a better life than the one they left behind. In turn, in the populated cities, it is still possible - while not ‘alone’ among hundreds and thousands - to feel lonely.
Interestingly, in early church history, there was a time when the eremitic or hermitic life was prized, or at least, respected. But this practice was not exclusive to Christianity. It was deemed “good” to separate from the “bad” world, even physically so as to reduce its charms and compromises which often result in debilitating outcomes. So we hear of Paul of Thebes, Antony of Egypt and the Desert Fathers. They did what they thought best under their circumstances.
“Of course, being alone and being lonely aren’t the same. Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative.” (Gretchen Rubin)
Still struggling with a touch of being alone?
1. Learn to enjoy God’s presence. You are never alone when you are with God. His Presence embraces all rejection and emptiness, there is fullness of joy (Ps 16:11). Just God and you. More than sufficient.
2. Learn to enjoy occasional solitude. Be comfortable in your own skin. Connect with your inner self in self-acceptance. Reduce the need to have others offer you a sense of self-worth. “I am OK and it’s OK to be me.”
3. Learn to be a good friend: This is literally a “give-and-take”. How can you contribute to make others feel secure, worthwhile and accepted? Do to others as you would like done to you. They’ll be glad you came and you’ll be glad to be truly “present” with them.
We then might say with Paul (Phil 4:12 liberally paraphrased): I have learnt. To be content. In company and alone.
A good fit.
Dr Andrew Goh is the editor of Impact magazine.
This article can be found in the vol. 43 no.5 of IMPACT Magazine.
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