My eye is drawn to the person standing on the sidelines of a group. The person who does not seem to interact. The person who does not seem to know anyone. I see lonely people everywhere, down the street, sitting opposite of me, and behind me. I know them because I was one of them. Sometimes I still am one of them. Once you have nearly drowned in loneliness, you become aware of people who are currently drowning. Awareness is both a gift and a curse.
Loneliness is somewhat of a depressing topic, I know. It might not be “blog-worthy”. On the other hand, maybe it’s important to consider loneliness as an issue. Recently the UK has gotten their own minister to combat loneliness. It’s not only the government. The media also likes to argue that we, as a society, are becoming more lonely.
Richard Pennycook from the Guardian asks the question;
What is at the root of this crisis? For decades, society has become more and more focused on the individual, and less on the community. More “me” and less “cooperative”.
The more we are worried about ‘me, me, me’, the less we will be worried about ‘we, we, we’ and subsequently, we will have pockets of isolated and vulnerable individuals. Sounds obvious, but maybe this is something that we forget.
What about that young women who says very little and rarely leaves her house? What about the young man who has crippling anxiety? What about the homeless man who is sitting there, watching everyone go by, with only his dog near him? What about the old man who goes to the store everyday and goes straight back to his house? These are strangers, not neighbours, and we don’t know their stories; so we let them go by without a look, smile or a ‘hi’. Loneliness may be a problem of society but like all problems of society, it starts with us individuals. How do you view others?
I know that I am fortunate because unlike many others, I belong in a community. I have a wonderful church which I go to every week. I have a sense of community and a sense of family in a sea of strangers. At least, this is what the church is meant to look like. This is what the church is meant to be.
However, even a thriving church community has pockets of isolated members, trapped in their own bubble because of circumstances or personal issues. People slip under the radar and fall in-between cracks. People struggle to make the first move. Yet, this is not to condemn yourselves or other churches; but simply to raise awareness. You have chronic lonely people surrounding you everyday.
But then, what do we do about it as individual people living in a society? In my most isolated and lonely times, I’ve had people reach out to me, befriend me, and assure me that I was not alone. As a result, I have learned to reach out to others. The act of reaching out becomes a cycle. We can’t save people from their problems but we can smile, say hi, have a conservation, and when possible point them to the One who can save. This is what it means to reach out.
Let each of you look not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:4). We need to learn to be mindful of others. Practice kindness on a daily basis on the most dreary days. Give others a chance, and then a second chance as well. Even when you are feeling lonely, you’re not alone. Not really.