Are You Lonely?

by Eric Kreye

Loneliness--what is it? That is a hard question. Loneliness is not necessarily being alone. One individual described it this way: "Loneliness isn't being alone. That's solitude. It's feeling alone." (From The Pursuit of Happiness, by David G. Myers, p. 151.)

There are many lonely people in the world today. In fact, the number seems to be increasing in this modern electronic-controlled age. Lonely persons can be found in every profession, every economic level, every church, every ethnic group, every culture, every age group. The pain of loneliness is no respecter of persons. It can happen to the individual who lives alone and has no family at all to the person who is constantly surrounded by crowds of people. Loneliness is like a highly-contagious disease--it spreads throughout the world irrespective of borders or boundaries.

There are a number of factors that come to the surface when considering the causes of loneliness. Here are several:

Being different. This can happen to a child in school, to a person who marries into a foreign family and doesn't know the language, or how about one who is deaf or blind?

A wealthy person can suffer loneliness. Even though there may be plenty of people around, it might be hard for this person to find a real friend.

Some marriages foster loneliness when the partners do not share the same values or interests.

Loneliness in new environments. We live in the rapid age of mobility. People tend to move from one area to another much more frequently than a generation earlier. It can mean that there is no longer a support system of friends and family and it takes longer to establish links of friendship again.

Divorce. In America we are seeing nearly half of marriages ending in divorce. Divorce means not only that two individuals are very lonely, but the children involved in the break-up experience the painful result of their own broken world. Often the resulting loneliness affects the children for years to come.

Loss. When a couple has been married for many years and suddenly they are separated by the death of the spouse, the remaining partner experiences the excruciating pain of loneliness. This loss may last for a few weeks, months, or even years.

If you experience the loss of a job or profession through no fault of your own, you may not only suffer loneliness but perhaps an intense sense of failure and low self-esteem. It can be so debilitating that it is nearly impossible to think in terms of searching for a suitable job.

Loss takes a generous amount of time to heal.

There are many causes of loneliness. We have touched on just a few. Whatever the cause, what can be done to change to a positive direction? Here are a few suggestions:

1. For a while at least keep a loneliness journal. The more you learn about what makes you feel so lonely, the more possible to find solutions. In the process of writing a journal, you actually admit that you are quite lonely. That is a good beginning. Remember, it is not a sign of weakness to be lonely. One cannot find a solution until one admits that there is a problem. Keep track of what triggers your feelings of loneliness. Have you felt lonely for some time, or is it related to a specific event? Do you think it stems from your own actions, or perhaps your own personality contributes to the difficulty? What do you think you can do to bring about an improvement or a resolution?

2. Get involved in helping some other person who is lonely. One young man headed for a Wal-Mart store to do a little shopping. He noticed an old man sipping a cup of coffee in the snack area. Thinking the old man looked lonely, the shopper decided to speak to him. Pulling up a chair next to the seemingly lonely man, he wished him a good morning.

The man looked up in surprise and said, "You're the first person who has said good morning to me in years."

After a long conversation, the shopper turned to the elderly man and said, "I've got to go now, but I want to shake your hand."

Happily the man offered his hand, saying, "I can't remember the last time I shook hands with anyone."

Now the two men meet at Wal-Mart every week to eat breakfast together and swap stories.

A touching story shared by a hospital chaplain shows how meaningful the little attentions can be to lonely people.

While visiting a hospital patient, the chaplain casually remarked, "Will you be having visitors while you're here?" "I'm afraid not," the patient said quietly. "You see, I don't have a friend in the whole world. They say I was nearly dead when I came here. Good thing I dialed for help when I did."

"Is there anyone who knows you?" the chaplain said in disbelief.

"No, sir. I'm telling you the truth. I had a phone put in, hoping that somebody would call a wrong number and for a few moments I'd think that someone was actually thinking about me. But the phone never rings." A few tears ran from his eyes, but then he stopped speaking altogether because the experience was so painful to talk about.

The beauty of it all is that the moment we become our brother's or sister's keeper, it will help us break through our own loneliness, whatever the situation or circumstance!

3. Make sure your expectations are realistic.One young lady became engaged to a handsome man who served in the service of our country. In her imagination, her life with this dashing young man was very romantic and all she could envision was a happy, traditional home. Is it any wonder that the reality of a long separation, when her husband was called overseas, left her lonely and disillusioned? Fortunately, they were able to communicate with each other about the realities of military life and this helped bring her a degree of contentment.

4. Take a break from television. Watching episodes on TV can lead one to live in an imaginary world. It often reduces time for positive relationships, talking and listening to others, having eye contact with family and friends. Take time to develop and enhance interpersonal relationships by turning the knob to OFF as frequently as necessary.

5. Decide you won't be driven. Some lonely people find themselves driven to locate someone that will take away their loneliness. They go from place to place with just that goal in mind. There are some who feel a need for friendship, but by their own unusual behavior repel others instead of bringing them into a genuine friendship.

One man was attending a support group for singles and approached a lady who had lost her mate a few months earlier. He immediately said, "I think we ought to get together. I'd really like to take you out to dinner sometime so we can talk about our common interests."

There was an awkward silence as the woman busied herself with her coat. Then she took a seat on the opposite side of the room away from the man.

6. If you have a family, simplify your life. Families who are not lonely have learned to live with fewer material possessions so they can have more time together as a family. Children whose parents are extremely involved, barely ever around, end up either clinging or becoming aloof in relating to others. Lacking self-confidence and trust, such children are prone to chronic loneliness. Put your family first on the list!

7. Have balance in your life. It takes discipline and patience, and sometimes it means adjusting to priorities, to strike a balance between work, relationships, rest and relaxation, and also planning some time alone.

8. Good nutrition is invaluable. The food we eat affects our moods, and even what we don't eat can be devastating and hurtful. For instance, those who habitually do not eat breakfast are inviting difficulties presently and in the future.

9. Exercise--even something as simple as walking every day--gives one a sense of well-being. It increases the endorphins in the system and this helps produce more positive feelings. This will also help a person get a good night's rest.

These three things--good nutrition, exercise, plenty of good sleep--will help reduce a sense of loneliness.

10. Avoid the trap of competition. During a church leadership seminar, one evangelist after another was brought to the front to share his success in having a number of baptisms. Later one pastor was found sitting in a darkened corner of a lounge, weeping. He finally admitted that he felt alone, separated from his colleagues, because he did not measure up to the success of the others. He had success in other areas of pastoral work, but he felt the pressure of competing with the speakers of the day.

11. Don't overlook the benefits of touching. Lonely people should decide that they will be open to the appropriate touch of others and take the opportunity themselves to touch others as well--yes, even a traditional handshake can give a real lift and can be of encouragement like the lonely old man in Wal-Mart mentioned above.

A woman in California decided to visit a friend whose husband had recently died quite suddenly. The visitor didn't know what she would say, but when her friend opened the door, they fell into each other's arms and wept openly. Not much was said, but later the widow expressed how much it had meant to her to have her friend's arms around her at this crucial time. That touch of love and caring meant more than any words that could have been said!

12. Hobbies. Professional counselors often encourage their lonely patients to get involved in a hobby. Such activities offer not only relaxation and pure enjoyment, but they help make leisure time more meaningful. Many well-known people have hobbies that help them relax. Prime Minister Winston Churchill enjoyed painting and writing--and even the art of bricklaying! Franklin Roosevelt collected stamps and worked with model ships. President Dwight Eisenhower golfed and painted. Others have occupied themselves with pets, made baskets, carved soap figures, or collected good books and spent many happy hours reading.

And just maybe an interesting hobby will lead to new friends who enjoy the same activity!

13. Strengthen your relationship with God. Just one caution: One lady suffering from loneliness turned to religion, thinking she would find answers there. Church people told her that her loneliness would completely disappear if she turned her life over to God. These well-meaning individuals gave her the impression that all this would happen immediately. In other words, one day you are a lonely sinner; the next day you can be totally free of crippling loneliness.

Although she gave her life to God, her chronic loneliness did not vanish overnight. When she spoke of this to her friends at church, they assured her that she should by now have found relief. Then she suffered seriously from guilt, believing that she had not completely given her life to God. Maybe she hadn't prayed hard enough? Perhaps she should begin doing more for God? Or God could Perhaps God was punishing her for the bad things she had done before giving her life to Him?

Her struggles continued for months until her loneliness and discouragement turned into depression. When her friends heard about her bouts of depression, they casually and unthinkingly told her that a good Christian does not get depressed. That sent her into deeper depression. The pain was so intense that she would sit at a traffic light and contemplate pulling out in front of an 18-wheeler and end it all. That's when she decided to seek the help of a Christian counselor. He was able to have this suffering lady understand that conquering chronic loneliness was an on-going process in which God would play a major part--she must keep trusting Him!

Three years have passed and she has now found peace, except for an occasional period of loneliness.

Remember that Jesus Himself suffered the pain of loneliness. He ran up against the traditions of His own people and felt rejected. Others insisted on bringing up His seeming illegitimate birth and throwing it in His face. People put Him down because of where He was born--"can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" He was mistreated and made fun of because of His lowly trade as carpenter and His lack of education. They questioned His motives. In the Garden of Gethsemane He suffered intensely the pain of loneliness. His closest friends deserted Him. Falsely accused He died a death He did not deserve.

Yes, Jesus knows about our loneliness and understands us when we go through this DARK VALLEY. We may at times feel lonely, unloved, weak, rejected, and even abandoned, but the great God of heaven is intensely aware of our situation.

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
you are mine....
...you are precious in my sight,
and honored,
and I love you...."
--Isaiah 43:1, 4


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