“’Imagine a condition that makes a person irritable, depressed and self-centered, and is associated with twenty-six percent increase in the risk of premature mortality,’ Cacioppo and her late husband, John Cacioppo, wrote. ‘Around a third of people in industrialized countries report feeling lonely, one in twelve severely so, and the proportions are increasing, they warned,’” (2019).
The article goes on to discuss how this country’s loneliness epidemic is almost worse than obesity on its effects of our longevity. Researchers now want to give people a pill to solve the loneliness problems we face.
This is a “we” problem.
We are on our computers, phones, and tablets more than not.
We are working from home more.
We order our groceries online.
We go to an ATM or cash checks from our phone apps instead of waiting to interact with a teller.
We are seeing people less. Forced to interact with others less.
In essence, the more technology enters our lives, the less relational we have to be. Loneliness is a byproduct of becoming more technologically efficient as a culture. We’ve become so self-sufficient we don’t need others and it lands us in a dangerous territory of selfishness. For example, when we don’t get what we want, as instantly as we want, we tend to become selfish or experience extreme frustration when our needs aren’t met instantly.
Because that’s what we have: instant solutions to our problems.
Can’t do the math? Open the calculator on our phones.
Can’t figure out what’s wrong with our washing machine? Ask Google.
Can’t figure out how to pray? There’s a social media hashtag for help.
Can’t figure out how to apply makeup? Let the ten-year-old girl on Youtube with professional video equipment teach you application techniques.
Not only are adults suffering from loneliness, but our children are, too. For instance, if you’re a mother or father, you might forget there are children in front of you that want your attention. I see it all too often: moms or dads complain about how frustrated they are with their kids, how needy they are, how frustrating they are, or more. I get it. I have three. I’m sure you’ve heard the red-headed dragon voicing his opinions since birth. Lest I repeat: I get it. Life can get overwhelming and frustrating. Here’s the thing, though, when I’m irritated by the kids’ behaviors it is my fault. Notice I didn’t say their choices in behavior are my fault, but the irritation with their behavior is my fault. Usually children act out to receive attention. Any attention is better than no attention.
Instead of punishing my kids, running to wine, running to complain somewhere, I stop what I’m doing. We do something together. It can be as simple as doing a puzzle together, reading aloud, or even jumping in the car to head to a local park. It doesn’t matter. They want my time. When we get home, the kids and I are better behaved and feel connected again.
We might need to put down our phones, put down our distractions, take a day off of work and look those kids in the eyes. Know when to say no and when to say yes. Know when they just simply need time with you.
You’re not alone if you struggle with loneliness and the issues surrounding it. As a culture we are struggling with loneliness because we were created to do life in community with others. And yet, much of what we do during the day requires no human interaction. Social media creates a false sense of community. We have this place where we post our highs and some people are only posting their lows. We see pieces and parts while the subtle nonverbal means of communication are missing–innuendos and nuances that enhance a person’s ability to communicate fully.
I think back to the Garden of Eden. How in the first book of the Bible we’re introduced to this idea of the nuances of communication. A familiar passage in Genesis 3 is where the serpent tempts Eve and Adam and the future we live in today is still affected by that decision. In that passage, Adam and Eve are aware something is different for them—they’re naked. In the midst of sewing their fig leaves to cover themselves they “heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” (Genesis 3:7).
This imagery always gets me. Think about your house, either your current household or your childhood home. The door opens. You know who it is just by the sound of the way the door opened. You hear running children in your home and can discern which child is running directly toward you to tell on another sibling. You know. You know from living in intimate relationship with these people.
Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord. They lived so intimately with him that they knew his walking sounds from the larger animals around them. There’s something about living in intimate relationships with others that we feel connection. Just like the example with my children, there is something about stopping my work to do life with my children that changes everything—behaviors, attitudes, outlook, confidence, and more.
God isn’t alone—he is three in one: God, Holy Spirit, Jesus.
In the beginning, God saw it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone so Eve was created (Genesis 2:20-22).
The wisest man ever to live, Solomon, said, “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 them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). He continues to say, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Companionship is a blessing, but all too often we squander companionship because of our own issues. We are workaholics, alcoholics, shopping addicts, over-eaters… avoiders shoving everything under the rug. I think we become these –aholics, addicts, and/or avoiders because we want to make sure no one sees the broken pieces of our lives. We never give the full story. We don’t feel we’re good enough to share life with other people because if they really knew…
We miss out on the blessing of doing life together with others when we lose sight of what is important due to our deep un-dealt with issues.
In other words, our avoidance methods (addictions, behaviors, hurts, habits, etc.) make us selfish.
Selfish people don’t:
- Take care of themselves (health, nutrition, spiritually, mentally, visit the doctor, exercise)
- Keep the right priorities for their season of life (live in complete denial of the reality facing them)
- Stop to rest (it is seen as weakness)
- Think of others (how much others love them, enjoy their presence, or the effects of their behaviors and attitudes)
When we do life in community with one another it makes the tasks of life easier. For example when we are met with a challenge in our life, say a spouse or child being very ill, our community comes around us to make the challenges of life a little easier to handle. The laundry may be magically done for us. The house could be cleaned. The refrigerator could be packed with food so the family doesn’t have to cook. A fundraiser benefit dinner could be scheduled in order to help take the burden of medical bills off of the family. These are just minor examples of how life can be easier with community.
True, healthy relationships in life provide comfort in the face of life’s harshness and add to one’s strength in dangerous times. I think about the addicts I know, substance and relationship addicts, and those who are in recovery. I think about how miserable they must have been while in their lowest of lows… the isolation that happened without even knowing it. In many cases, the broken person grew up in circumstances where they had to isolate for safety. Isolated their emotions because showing emotion wasn’t safe in their home. Isolated their needs and took care of their own needs by stuffing their faces with food or drink or pornography or multiple sex partners because they wanted to feel something other than the loneliness their childhood brought.
Which makes me wonder if we isolate ourselves quickly and choose to live in loneliness because too many unhealthy people have hurt us? Then do we not let anyone else in for fear of the same cycle over and over again? Is this why it is easier to maintain friendships via social media, texting, and other apps because we can keep people at distances we feel comfortable with?
And more, do we choose to isolate ourselves because we are scared to face our very real issues lying underneath the surface?
Come back next week for the second part of the Loneliness series. I’ll wrap up with some practical application steps for us to break the cycle of loneliness in our lives.
Kirkey, S. (2019, August 13). Researchers are working on a pill for loneliness, as studies suggest the condition is worse than obesity. Retrieved August 13, 2019, from https://nationalpost.com/health/all-the-lonely-people