Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
There are few issues that have such a devastating effect as loneliness.
Being alone in the world without a true friend must be terrible – soul destroying. Psychologists and counsellors are now agreeing that loneliness is Australia’s next epidemic. The 2018 survey of 1,678 people found that one in four Australians report feeling lonely, three or more days every week. One in three Australians never or rarely feel like they belong to a group of friends. And half of all Australians feel lonely at least one day a week.
Very sobering statistics – and quite alarming I think. Maybe you didn’t realise that so many of us feel disconnected and alone. One in three feel they don’t belong to a group of friends! These survey results from 2018 also tell us that loneliness increases the likelihood of experiencing depression by 15 per cent and anxiety by 13 per cent. Loneliness also increases blood pressure, heightening the risk of stroke and heart disease. Medical people are saying chronic loneliness can also make us susceptible to disease and even shorten our lifespan1.
It’s affecting young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated. You wouldn’t know it’s happening, because much of it takes place behind closed doors. But increasing numbers of people are touched by it. I’m talking about loneliness.
The health impacts of loneliness
Loneliness is not good for us. What is your network of social connection like? Do you have enough close friends to keep you afloat? Is there someone you trust enough to talk openly and honestly?
UK journalist George Monbiot writes:
“Isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; it’s twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents—all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. Evidently, we cannot cope alone.”
Even wealthy people are affected by loneliness. You might think that wealth is a cushion against loneliness. But although wealth might protect against some problems, loneliness is not one of them.
A survey by Boston College of people with an average net worth of $78 million found that they too were assailed by anxiety, dissatisfaction and loneliness. Having millions in the bank isn’t enough to protect you against loneliness.
The difference church and God make
But what of the church? Yes, there is an institution that can break the cycle of loneliness. When you join a friendly and active church, you will meet friendly and like-minded people who will embrace and care for you. People go to church to have fellowship with others. The morning tea afterwards is always a good time of talking and laughing – it’s sharing stories and an opportunity to let your guard down. Chances are there is at least one person who will listen to you without judgement.
Society—and in particularly churches—can do much to alleviate loneliness. But we need to point to the One who’s the ultimate solution to loneliness: ‘Immanuel’—God with us. No matter how lonely or isolated we might feel, God Himself is with His people, bringing comfort and hope to our darkest nights: God’s Word says to us, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”. That’s the best weapon against being lonely.
God, through Jesus Christ, is with you and for you. You are never out of His thoughts and plans because He loves you. In a world that’s growing ever more lonely, it’s an amazing promise.
Loneliness in the Bible
The Bible has some examples of wonderful people who were very lonely, and they wrote of their experiences. David was well acquainted with it, and his honest cries to God are recorded in the Psalms, especially Psalm 25:
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in You. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in You.”
God’s prophets often felt the pain of rejection and loneliness. Consider the prophet Jeremiah. The Lord told Jeremiah not to marry. He had few friends. Scholars refer to Jeremiah as the “weeping prophet.” God called him to speak out against the sinfulness of Judah and warn of impending judgment unless the people of Judah repented and changed their ways. Jeremiah chapter 15 captures the prophet speaking to God about his loneliness, unending pain, and suffering. Despite his pain, Jeremiah trusted the Lord and followed God’s calling for his life.
But remember that God’s Word reminds us that, despite our loneliness telling us that we are alone, as His beloved children, we are never alone.
1 Research from Swinburne University of Technology and Australian Psychological Society.