I read a news story posted on the WebMD website about a survey on loneliness in the United States. It concluded that our nation faces:
“widespread loneliness, with nearly half of Americans reporting they feel alone, isolated, or left out at least some of the time. The nation’s 75 million Millennial’s (ages 23-27) and Generation Z adults (18-22) are lonelier than any other U.S. demographic.
In addition, of the 20,000 people sampled, 54% of respondents said they feel no one knows them well, and four in 10 reported they ‘lack companionship,’ their ‘relationships aren’t meaningful’ and they ‘are isolated from others.’ Douglas Nemecek, MD, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health, said the findings of the study suggest that the problem has reached ‘epidemic’ proportions…’. Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity,…’(1)
Initially, I was somewhat surprised to see such results, particularly in the younger generations that seem so “connected” via phones, tablets, computers, and other tools that grant them access to a myriad of social media sites.
One would think that our newfound capacity to communicate would have reduced our sense of loneliness. In fact, the average person in the U.S. is more connected than anytime in our country’s history. Statistically, a typical American today comes into contact with more people in a single year than most did over an entire lifetime 100 years ago. (2)
Data from just one social media company, Facebook, illustrates the degree by which we have adopted our connected lifestyles. In the U.S., 156 million unique monthly visitors access Facebook each month.(3) A disproportionate number of these are younger people, presumably the most connected of all in our society. 48 million users or 88% of all 18–29 year old’s, and another 52 million users or 84% of all 30–49 year old’s are among those that connect regularly with Facebook.(4) (5) And that’s just one social platform among many where such connections occur.
In the presence of this data, how is it possible for our country to be facing an “epidemic” of loneliness along with its accompanying health consequences?
All of this caused me to ponder what loneliness really is. One of the more common clinical definitions I found in several resources described loneliness as a condition “ …marked by painful feelings of sadness and longing and almost always by the absence of, yet felt desire for, relationship with others” (6)
Bottom line: Without meaningful relationships we’ll quickly find ourselves living in a state of misery.
Social media often gives us the appearance of meaningful relationships, but in reality, social media “relationships” are a far cry from the depth and quality of real-life relationships. We as human beings are living, breathing, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings. We’re fundamentally designed to live in relationship and community. We have a basic built-in need to interact with one another in real-time. To live outside of this reality is to promote isolation, and isolation fosters loneliness and stress.
To illustrate the stress of isolation on the human mind; many years ago an English doctor built an experimental room to test its effects. This soundproof room was more akin to a large box suspended by a series of nylon ropes. Volunteer subjects were all given padded gloves and translucent goggles to eliminate the sense of sound and sight. All meals were eaten in the isolation chamber and the volunteers were observed via a one-way screen. Volunteers were allowed to exit the experiment at anytime. In the end, most could not tolerate more than five hours of isolation. In fact, even after as little as an hour, with the knowledge that they could exit at any time, most volunteers had increasing feelings of panic and anxiety.(7)
No doubt, numerous factors contribute to the high level of loneliness being experienced by our society today, yet I couldn’t help but notice that the very same demographic experiencing the highest levels of loneliness, are coincidentally the same groups that are increasingly distancing themselves from God’s offer of a loving, meaningful, and personal relationship with their creator.
About a third of older Millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26. Nearly a quarter of Generation Xers now say they have no particular religion, or they describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, up four points in seven years. (8)
The religiously unaffiliated population – including all of its constituent subgroups – have grown rapidly as a share of the overall U.S. population. The share of self-identified atheists has nearly doubled in size since 2007, from 1.6% to 3.1%. Agnostics have grown from 2.4% to 4.0%. And those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” have swelled from 12.1% to 15.8% of the adult population since 2007. Overall, the religious “nones” have grown from 16.1% to 22.8% of the population.(9)
To be sure, there are many drivers that no doubt contribute towards a society plagued with loneliness. However, we can be rest assured that loneliness was never part of God’s original plan for us.
A few examples:
1. God desires to partner with us in carrying the burdens of this life:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”-(Matthew 11:28)
The rest implied here isn’t like a vacation, rather it’s a type of rest that gives us room to breath and strength to continue, it allows us to manage through the challenges of life that often weigh upon us. Jesus has access to the Father and the resources of the Father, His invitation is extended to everyone that recognizes their spiritual need for a relationship with Christ. Our access to Christ, means our access to the Father and his resources. Christ equates the Christian life with spiritual rest which does not allow us to escape the hard life, rather to experience rest and refreshment in its midst. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
2. God is committed to walking beside us through all of time.
“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20b)
One of the great hallmarks of a meaningful relationship is when one chooses to come along side another over a lifetime. I know of several friends and married couples that have successfully navigated the challenges of their lifetimes through loving mutual support found in their relationships. Yet even this level of dedication to one another, pales compared to the promises of Christ. Christ promises to not only walk with us through this finite human life, but to remain with us through all of time and eternity.
3. God loves us with a deep sacrificial love that goes beyond any human capacity to love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God loves you and I in the ultimate sense of the word. His love for us is sacrificial in nature. It has no bounds in terms of his sacrifice, which has afforded us the opportunity for an eternal relationship that starts the moment we say “yes” to his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation.
4. God’s love for us is perfect.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
God is capable of loving us more perfectly than any human being could love another. This is so, because only God can know our hearts and minds with absolute completeness. No human relationship can claim that level of relationship. Only God can know our heart in its totality, capturing and understanding all of our true motives and feelings.
5. God has demonstrated his love and desire for us to be in relationship, even when we were living outside of relationship with him
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
God desires a relationship with us entirely on the basis of grace, our relationship is not founded on how good a person might be, or how many good things I’ve done in this life. It’s founded entirely on his grace. This is evidenced by his intentional love for you and I, even in the face of our rejection of him.
6. God enables us to grow and fulfill our God given purposes in life whenever we choose to walk in relationship with him. In so doing, we are connected to him in a deep and powerful way.
“I am the vine, you are the branches, if you remain in me and I in you will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)
No other relationship in the world can enable us more than our personal relationship with God. When we are close to God and surrendered to him in our personal relationship, his character will be expressed and lived out in our lives. The Apostle Paul included in his list of qualities that God values, such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Galatians 5:22-23)
Among these qualities, the one held the highest is love, but not in an emotional sense, rather in an outgoing and self-giving series of actions sense.
Are you one of the lonely?
I encourage you to look deep into to your heart and be totally honest with yourself.
If you find that you are lonely, feeling disconnected and living out your life without deep and true purpose, then the first step is to move towards total surrender of yourself to Jesus, for he loves us without condition or pretense.
If you already have a relationship with Christ, but perhaps have grown distant, then take a moment and pray, ask God to help you drop your guard and allow him full reign in your life. Let no aspect of your life be off-limits to God, put it all before the cross. He can’t fix our hearts until we allow him in to do so. Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart as we speak, don’t ignore him, don’t turn aside, he loves you and desires more than anything in this world to welcome you into an abiding eternal relationship with him.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
If you have never followed Christ, and you sense the desire to do so, then pray and ask God to receive you into his family. Commit your life and surrender it totally and completely to Christ, trusting in faith that the work Christ did on the cross for you will be sufficient to save you for eternity.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
You can talk to God by praying, using your own words. There are no special formulas. Just pray from your heart to God, and He will save you. If you feel lost and just don’t know what to pray, here’s a prayer of salvation that you can pray:
I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself. I am sorry and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life, I give it to you. Help me to live every day in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you. -Amen”
Because we know that we are designed to be a people in relationship, if you prayed this prayer, or if you have recommitted your life to Christ, you need to find a Bible believing church that you can join in your area. Perhaps where you live there are no formal churches to attend, (Often this is the case for those living in countries where Christianity is feared by the authorities and has been banned.) if so, ask God through prayer to find a way for you to connect with other believers. He will honor your prayers.
Once you find either a church or a group to fellowship and pray with, commit to meeting regularly and supporting one another. Study the scriptures and allow God’s word to grow within you as he grows in relationship with you.
Only through the power of Christ will you be released and restored from the grip of loneliness.