Last post we began looking at the problem of loneliness, actually the epidemic. This issue is indeed pervasive but we only have to look inside our own hearts to see how painful it is. In spite of more ways than ever to connect with other people, individuals seem to feel less and less so.
We looked at some things that contribute to the problem: maybe it's more that we are just more willing than ever before to admit it but studies reveal that the loneliness problem is steadily worsening. Things such as busy lives, transience of people, technology, social media and perhaps even unrealistic expectations have helped to create a culture where everybody is together but feeling alone.
It's not enough to examine the problem - I want us to offer some help.
And that's exactly what I got when I solicited input from you all. What follows are some suggestions from readers, from my own experience, and from some "experts" (which probably just means "folks that get paid to offer advice"!)
Let's begin with this - God designed us for relationship.
Relationship with Him, first of all, but also with one another. It is good and wise and desirable that we experience "community" with others. One of my favorite New Testament words describes this very thing: "koinonia"- fellowship, sharing, participating together. It's God's gift to His people, an avenue of blessing us...and of transforming us.
SO, while it is right to desire and to pursue relationship with others, there are some things to keep in mind. Hopefully these tips will help us combat the problem of loneliness not only in our own lives but also in the lives of others. Read on...
1. Guard against unrealistic expectations. No one human can meet all the emotional needs of another. Not even a spouse! (That doesn't mean we need more than one spouse !!!) Sometimes loneliness sets in because we expect more from people than they are equipped to give - that leaves us disappointed and sad. Look to God as the primary filler of your soul, the foremost source of joy and the only constant comfort. Only after He is in His rightful place in our lives, are we suited to look to others to fill our relational cup. One reader shared that loneliness comes when we are looking for worldly acceptance. Great point. Don't expect the world to meet our need to be accepted and known. Not only should we be careful not to hope that ordinary humans can meet our DIVINE needs, we should also not place all our human needs on the back of just one person. It's healthy to have 2-3 close friends, not just one. (Even if hubby is your BFF like mine is, don't expect him to think, react, and understand like a girl - we need good girlfriends in our lives!)
2. On that same note, think of friendships as flowers - some will be annuals and some will be perennials but all can serve to bring beauty to our lives. Accept that not every relationship will last as long as you want it to. For a variety of reasons, things change. Some people are in our lives forever and that is a great blessing. Others, though, are only there for a season. Those can still be beautiful blessings, too! It's not only daffodils and roses that enhance our yards so let's not allow fear of disappointment prevent us from experiencing some of those beautiful marigolds and zinnias!!
3. Speak out loud the words "I am lonely" or sad or anxious, etc. One reader shared how powerful it is to voice these words, particularly to another person, but even just aloud to the air. This serves to diffuse the undesirable state of your soul. I did a little research on the subject and some experts say that verbalizing the emotions actually release chemicals that dissipate the negative feelings. So it's not merely a psychological impact but actually a physiological one as well! I think maybe it has a connection to the humility principle - when we are willing to admit our need, God rushes to our aid, opposing the proud (those unwilling to admit need) but giving grace to the humble!
4. Take regular (and prolonged) breaks from social media. We established in the last post how social media can contribute to the loneliness epidemic - it creates a false sense of reality, it compounds the problem of comparison, and it prevents authentic human connection. SO take a break from it! At least a day a week. And maybe every so often, take off a month or two...or three... This is not only healthy for us as adults but it is a critical example for our kids. Get off Facebook for a while!
5.Wives - encourage your hubby to pursue male friendships! He needs this desperately but oftentimes good husbands are hesitant to take time away from family to do guy stuff. Because they feel guilty. Do not require/demand his constant attention and availability. Let him feel free and affirmed to not be home helping you! This will actually help you more in the long run. Let your man be a man, not a "male girlfriend". (And if you are reading this and rolling your eyes because you have a hubby who is "always" gone, take this up with the Only One who can bring about change. In the meantime, read the article mentioned in the last post about men and friendships and rest assured that you are contributing to your hubby's good health!)
6. Meet the needs of others. When those feelings of loneliness begin to overtake you, remind yourself that you are not the only one. Somebody else is feeling lonely too. You can solve two problems with one action if you reach out to someone else. Visit a widow. Or a nursing home. Take a meal to a mom with several littles (this probably will earn you a friend for a lifetime!). Ask God to open your eyes and your heart to someone else and watch what He does for you!
7. Don't waste your loneliness. Believe it or not, being lonely can bring about some good things. In the relational desert of loneliness, we can find the deepest intimacy with our Father. Being still - and alone - is the way we can get to know Him.Immerse yourself in His Word , especially the Psalms. There are such treasures in there, such comfort and healing and wisdom. It is very encouraging to learn that spiritual giants of the Old Testament wrestled with loneliness! And in the Psalms, we see how they leaned into God as their refuge. We can learn to do that, too He can use our loneliness as a catalyst for transformation in our lives, developing depth and wisdom and tearing us away from self-centered living. If you are battling loneliness, let it be God's instrument for good. In our lives and into the lives of others.
8. Ask God. More than one reader testified to the willingness and ability of God to supply what we need. In everything...including the need for a friend. Ask Him to send you a friend...and to send you to be one to someone else.
If you have more suggestions to add, I'd love to hear from you. And I hope you'll give a listen as Jules and I discuss this very thing 9/11 8-11 PM on 88.9 WMSL.