Being alone does not mean that you are lonely. Alone is when you are by yourself, it is an adjective that refers to a state of solitude. Solitude is not necessarily a bad thing. Being lonely is also an adjective, but this time it relates to a feeling, a sense of being abandoned, or sad due to isolation. You can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely; you can be alone and not feel lonely at all.
Feeling lonely can have an impact on your overall health as well as your mental health. Stress from feeling disconnected and alone can result in depression, anxiety, heart problems etc. Loneliness feels draining, distracting and upsetting.
Loneliness is not God’s design for us, Psalm 68:6 tells us that “God sets the lonely in families,” and it is His intention for a life that is abundant and full (John 10:10) and lived in a community of believers (Psalm 133:1-3). We have been brought into God’s family and made God’s children. From God, we have received “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father’” (Rom. 8:15). As far as our status is concerned, we are no longer “strangers and aliens” to the people of God but “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
This, however, does not mean that we will not feel lonely.
Loneliness is more common than one would think. Still, because of the stigma associated with loneliness, people often don’t talk about it or even admit to themselves that they may be lonely. Stigma? Some people feel that if you admit to being lonely, you are somehow not likeable, or even not capable of being loved. No one wants to feel that way about themselves, so we often keep quiet about loneliness, or fail to identify loneliness within us.
Yet when we admit our loneliness to others, it is precisely their love that reaches into our shell and pulls us out of those emotions.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
While we are in isolation or working from home, I am aware that I am struggling with loneliness, and I am sure others are too. I have realized that my perceived level of connection, is not at my desired level of connection. We are designed for togetherness and doing life together. Not being able to see family and friends, or even work colleagues is really trying. Even though our families are special to us, some of us miss the close connection we have with friends and the togetherness we experience with them.
Sometimes we think that if we are virtually connected through social media, text and email that will protect us from loneliness, and yes, it can help.
The quality of the connection is what is relevant here.
One may know many people superficially, yet have no deep quality connection and feel lonely. Technology can sometimes give quality connections, and sometimes it can detract from quality connections. It can cause us to substitute low-quality connections for what used to be high-quality in-person connections. The kind of connections you have in text, or email, is different to the connections we have when we can see their face, watch their reactions and listen to their tone of voice, either in person, by phone or video.
Here is what to do when feelings of loneliness overwhelm us:
1. Recognize your need for connection. We are designed to connect, to be together, to do life with others.
2. Don’t take on a defeated mentality, an invitation to a pity party for one. Don’t allow yourself when you are sad and low, to spiral downward in your thoughts and attitude. Don’t surrender your hope, don’t allow your problems and situation to be magnified beyond reality, and don’t allow your vision for life to become one dead end.
3. Don’t isolate yourself even more; connection is the antidote to loneliness. Seek connection, or at least position yourself for connection. Reach out.
4. Don’t indulge yourself. Feeling lonely often has us seek old coping mechanisms, addictions or vices that used to make you feel happier, or deaden your emotions. These are often extreme behaviours that take you down a dangerous path. This is like putting a plaster on a thorn, a temporary solution when what you really need, is connection.
5. Stay in touch, but in a way that allows for a deeper connection. Try video calls, or even just regular phone calls. Keep your routines as much as possible, if you had a standard arrangement for say coffee together, try and keep it, virtually. Make sure you keep up your connections. It is important for mental health, especially for people living alone. Don’t wait for people to make contact with you; you make an effort for your own mental health and theirs.
6. Teach those who don’t know how to use technology, how to do it, to help them stay connected to people. Teach things like Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp video calling. If you don’t know how – find out. Here is where the younger generation can help close the technology gap with older relatives and help them at the same time.
7. Make new connections, reach out beyond the people you already know and make new connections. Find interest groups like fitness, cooking, music etc. and join in.
Father, thank you for technology that allows for connection. Thank you that you designed and purposed us for connection, to be linked to people and not live in isolation. Help me to recognize feelings of loneliness inside of myself and make an effort to make connections with people. Today, help me to be active in establishing healthy, quality connections and not settle for superficial or distanced communication. Help me not to indulge myself, or feel sorry for myself, thus isolating myself even more, but help me to trust You that as I reach out to other people, you will cause Your love to be translated to me by others, and help me out of these feelings.