Millions of people cry themselves to sleep each night because they are lonely. I know a few of them personally.
What is loneliness? Loneliness is a state of mind, heart and soul in which a person experiences a lack of interest and contact with people and life. One can be lonely in a crowd. It is a state of emptiness and helplessness. It is being totally out of touch with others and self. It is a lack of inner resources. Loneliness happens when one is self-centered or concerned only about one’s own problems. It is fear of the innermost thoughts when alone.
Undoubtedly, loneliness has its negative aspects. Our hearts often tell us when we miss a supportive community like a family, a parish, a club or a neighborhood. Yet our society suggests that we be strong and independent, in need of no one. Independence has gone so far as to become an idol we worship in a depersonalized society. Society fails to suggest the necessity of speaking with others about this loss we feel.
Another negative aspect of loneliness is the threat and anxiety that challenge us most when we are all alone. The psalmist tells us of this threat and anxiety when he writes, “I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16), or in another place where he says he is “like a bird alone on a roof” (Psalm 102:7).
The threat and anxiety are lifted when we are left alone in a challenge. The author of Ecclesiastes says it simply: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, his friend can help him up. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10, 12).
Finally, loneliness is a kind of death in which we are broken. We feel the emptiness of unfinished dreams when we lose courage and give up, when we are afraid.
Loneliness doesn’t need to be lonely! On their lonely path, people may find a renewed awareness of who they are and discover insights into what they are challenged to be, if only they realize that their Creator, God, did not create them to be lonely.
The Book of Genesis tells us how back in the Garden of Eden in the very dawning of creation’s morning, God in His wisdom understood that it is not good for man to live in loneliness; so God decreed companionship. In other words, people need people. People need to interact with other people. They are not “islands,” but part of the continent. They are members of the human family. Whether they know it or not, people are involved with each other in a multitude of both known and unknown interdependencies. In this large family, we rise and fall together. “Whether one member suffers, all members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all members rejoice with it” (I Corinthians 12:26).
From this reality comes the realization that the answer rests in people’s willingness to reach out, talk, learn and listen to one another again. Yes, loneliness does not have to be so lonely!