In 1972, Journalist and author Vance Packard wrote a book about America called “A Nation of Strangers”. In the book, his studies showed that 4 out of 10 people experienced feelings of intense loneliness.
He wrote, “Our American culture produces people who more closely identify with characters on a weekly TV series, than with their own neighbors. Everywhere you look, there are signs that people are hungering for fellowship, community, and a sense of family.”
Back in 1966, the Beatles sang about that dilemma in their song “Eleanor Rigby”. They sang, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”
Now, let’s fast forward to Today. Certainly things are much better, right? Social Media is booming, people send tweets, pictures and spend hours on Facebook Whats App, We Chat, Tumblr, Instagram, and snap chat.
Yet on National Health Day, December 18, 2018 a University of California study suggested that 3 out of 4 Americans struggle with ongoing feelings of loneliness. They also pointed out 3 age groups who seem to be hit the worst; those in their late 20’s, 50’s and 80’s.
Dr. Dilip Jeste wrote, “The late 20s are a time when people are making choices that will affect the rest of their lives, such as their career, their choice of life partner and where they will settle. It really puts a lot of responsibility on them,” Jeste said. “It’s a really difficult period. And when they compare themselves to others, they might feel they aren’t doing as well as their peers.”
Studies suggest that many young people today talk about building relationships or engaging in ‘experiences’ but they seldom talk of joining or committing to anything. And most are lucky, if they have one close friend.
“The mid-50s are when people tend to experience a mid-life crisis, as signs of aging highlight the fact that their time on Earth is limited. They have major illnesses or surgeries, they may be caring for aging parents and have probably lost loved ones”.
The late 80s are a time of increased fear of helplessness. People may be dealing with ‘health that is in decline’ and them may have lost a spouse. Also, they may not have many people left around them, either family or friends.
Yet loneliness can happen at any age, at any time, and to anyone. It is no respecter of status or proximity to others. Loneliness is defined as; a feeling of being separated or isolated from others. Notice, first off, it is a feeling (and while no one can tell you how to feel, the Bible warns us about controlling our emotions.)
Proverbs 25:28 reads, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” And Ephesians 4:26 warns us it is ok to be angry but don’t sin. Likewise, it is ok to feel alone at times, as long as we do not wallow in loneliness.
The great playwright Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Don’t think of loneliness as some curious abstraction or rare phenomenon. Loneliness is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”
As we flip through the covers of our Bible, from Genesis through Revelation we find folks dealing constantly with seasons of loneliness. It is there in the life of Job, Jacob, Moses, King David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, the disciples and even Jesus himself.
As Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane, he was beginning to feel the distance from God the Father and from his disciples. He told Peter, James and John to remain behind and to keep watch as he went to pray.
But when he came back a short time later, he found his disciples sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?” Imagine the hurt, frustration and feelings of being alone and misunderstood that Jesus must have experienced.
Yet Jesus also knew a few other things; that what he was feeling was only temporary and that it was not completely true. God may turn his back on the sin but he would never abandon his Son. And he understood that this was just for a season.
David writes in the 23rd Psalm verse 4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” This was only one small part of his life’s journey.
Several pastors have written about the lies we believe about loneliness. Here are several I liked; feeling lonely is not a curse or a punishment from God. You are not the only one to ever feel this way. Feeling lonely is not a sign that you do not have enough faith. And finally, feeling lonely does not mean that God is abandoning you or does not care for you. The truth is, it is just a state of mind that most often passes.
Just a side note, if loneliness persists, it can lead to depression and hopelessness. If it does, seek help. Don’t be afraid to get support, that is not a sign of weakness, it just makes good sense. We all need someone to talk to from time to time.
Chuck Swindoll writes about an advertisement he saw in a Kansas Newspaper that read, “”I will listen to you talk for 30 minutes without comment for $5.”
Swindoll writes, “Sounds like a hoax, doesn’t it? But the person was serious. Did anybody call? You bet. It wasn’t long before this individual was receiving 10 to 20 calls a day. The pain of loneliness was so sharp that some were willing to try anything for a half-hour of companionship”
Back in 1982, the show ‘Cheers’ premiered on TV. In the opening theme song, these words rang clear, “Making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help
a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away?
“Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be… where everybody knows your name”.
People tuned into that show for 11 years, some, just to hear the opening song. We really do want to be understood, be cared about and be listened to. A few years later, “Friends” would use the same formula.
But just being near people is not enough, we need to be engaged. Have you ever gone somewhere and felt lonely in a crowd? Have you ever gone out with a group of people, only to find that you didn’t quite fit in?
At first I thought it was only me. Then I started paying attention. There are a lot of times I go to the store smile at people, and random people begin to talk to me. And sometimes it is hard to get away!
Our Bible has a lot to say about this; In Genesis, God created man to be in fellowship with him. But Adam was still lonely, so God gave him a companion, Eve. From the very beginning, in Genesis 2:20, it says, we were created to be social creatures, who need one another.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reads, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls – and has no one to help him up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Galatians 6:2 records these words, “Help carry one other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
The opposite of feeling lonely is feeling like you belong. It is feeling like you connect; that people notice you and they care. Being connected ‘by the internet’ is a good temporary fix but we need more. We were designed for face to face relationships.
Scientists tell us that by ‘looking at someone, touching them and just by being near’, our stress level drops and our overall health improves. We also know that little children who are ‘deprived of touch and speech’ suffer and can even ‘die from loneliness and depression’.
Americans like to be known as ‘lone rangers’ and when we get angry we sometimes say,
“I don’t need you. I don’t need anybody.” C.S. Lewis wrote ‘that that’ is just not true, “we are all in need of intimate relationships.” Yet we spend much of our lives denying that need and we are ‘helped by our culture’ that binds our eyes.
In his book Facing Loneliness, Rev. J. Oswald Sanders writes, ‘The millionaire is usually a lonely man and the comedian is often more unhappy than his audience.
On his 65th Birthday, Science Fiction writer HG Wells wrote, “I am 65, and I am lonely and have never found peace.” Albert Einstein, in later years wrote, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to still be so lonely.” Unfortunately, both rejected God.
Elisabeth Elliott, who lost her husband early in their marriage to the Auca Indians in South America Jim Elliot was murdered (Books and movies: Through Gates of Splendor & End of the Spear)
Elisabeth said out of her experience: “When you are lonely too much stillness is exactly the thing that seems to be laying waste your soul, but use that stillness to quiet your heart before God. Get to know Him.” That is where we all must start.
The Bible tells us that we are all loved, even before we knew God or were created. And God’s love never stops. One Bible version of Ephesians 2:19 reads, “You are no longer foreigners or strangers, but citizens together with God’s holy people. You belong to God’s family.”
Ephesians 1:5 says that we were adopted into God’s family, through Christ Jesus.
And Jesus himself promises us in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
You see, in God’s family, you are never alone. We have God and we have each other. The Church is the family of God. And because God knows how important it is for us to stay connected.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews (10:25) writes, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” In the sentence before, he writes, let’s spur each other on.
Now, sticking spurs in a horse to make it run faster seems cruel and kind of harsh, doesn’t it? What we are being called to do is to ‘challenge or excite others’ to go far beyond ‘where we believe we can go’.
That is what family does. They believe in you. They support you. They don’t always agree with you but they love you anyway. They want the best for you and they stand by you, through thick and thin.
But becoming part of the Family of God requires a commitment. You have to make a choice to belong. No one can force you. But when you do join, although it may not be perfect, it will be a place of hope, peace, joy, grace and love.
I wish I could say, from this point on, that everything would be perfect, but it won’t. But we have to look for the best in one another. There will still be times when we feel lonely.
It happens to all of us. Sometimes, we ‘just have to remember’ our family ties and get re-connected to get through the tough times. Just remember, you don’t have to go it alone.
We do need each other. We do belong to God and the family of God; His church. And we are never alone or unloved but we have to choose to belong. If you haven’t, make that choice to be connected, Today.
Your assignment is…accept what cannot be changed. Change what you can. Then, trust God for the rest. Finally, if you feel alone, don’t be afraid to reach out to God and one another. That is why we are here. If you are not feeling alone, maybe it is time to reach out to another.
Someone needs to be reminded that they are appreciated and loved! Amen.