Loneliness – friend or foe?
So what is loneliness?
Loneliness has been defined in different ways. A common definition is “A state of solitude or being alone”. The other definition is “Loneliness is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, “it is the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most” and is “a state of mind”. “Inability to find meaning in one’s life”, “Feeling of negative and unpleasant” and “A subjective, negative feeling related to the deficient social relations” “A feeling of disconnectedness or isolation.” It is a negative and uncomfortable feeling that can be persistent even in unexpected moments. At times all of us are tested by loneliness.
|What causes loneliness?
Loneliness has many different causes, which vary from person to person. We don’t always understand what it is about an experience that makes us feel lonely. For some people, certain life events may mean they feel lonely, such as: experiencing a bereavement, going through a relationship break-up, retiring and losing the social contact you had at work
changing jobs and feeling isolated, from your co-workers, moving to a new area or country without family, friends or community networks.
We should not underestimate the social dimensions of loneliness. Being a single parent or sole carer can make maintaining a social life difficult. Some are excluded from social activities due to a shortage of money or experience discrimination as a result of discrimination or stigma.
Some people experience deep and constant feelings of loneliness that come from within and do not disappear, regardless of their social situation or how many friends they have.
So loneliness is complex and multi factored. Recent studies suggest that between 25 and 35% of older adults are lonely and that this loneliness affects their health and well being.
Loneliness in the Bible
The Prophets felt alone and unheard and lonely.They carried a heavy burden of solitude. They felt they could not go on. Take for example Jeremiah ( the weeping prophet) He felt despair when the people repeatedly failed to heed his warnings (Jer. 20:14-18)..
Few books explore this territory more profoundly than Psalms. Time and again we hear King David’s despair:
I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears. (Ps. 6:6)
How long, Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me? (Ps. 13:1-2)
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Why are You so far from saving me so far from my cries of anguish? (Ps. 22:2)
Out of the depths I cry to You, Lord… (Ps. 130:1)
Jesus too experienced isolation and despair – he withdrew for peace and silence. The Gospel writers real his struggle and pain.
So does faith carry us ?
Loneliness is deeply ingrained into our journey, our living. We die alone and it os only us who can see life through our eyes and hearts. It is only us that can feel what we feel. We live with all the light and shade of our life and its rich and unpredictable tapestry of joy and pain.
In their isolation, loneliness, and deep despair, people down the centuries have cried out to God “from the depths,” and God answered them. God did not make their lives easier – but God did help them feel they were not alone.
Poets and artists and contemplatives and used this solitude and its melancholy for creative ends. Loneliness can have the capacity to bring us all into an unparalleled closeness to God. We are invited into discovery, an adventure even of a deep spirituality of solitude.
I write these words while most of the world is is continuing to face the coronavirus pandemic. We have been forced in lockdown back onto ourselves. These are unprecedented times. Many are feeling lonely, anxious, isolated, deprived of company.
But there are uses of adversity, and consolation in loneliness. When we feel alone, we are not alone, because the great heroes of the human spirit felt this way at times . It was precisely their loneliness that allowed them to develop a deeper relationship with God. Plumbing the depths, they reached the heights. They met God in the silence of the soul and felt themselves embraced.
I believe that isolation contains, within it, spiritual possibilities. We can use it to deepen our spirituality. It is when we feel most alone that we discover that we are not alone, “for You are with me.” This can be generative in the possibilities of enlarging our compassion and empathy. We can open up our true self undistracted by activity and consumerism and materialism. Loneliness can deepen solidarity and community.