Even before quarantines hit us there was an accelerating epidemic of loneliness and isolation at all levels of our society. It’s ironic that in a digital culture with so many ways of connection both young and old have been reporting high rates of loneliness and depression. It does not have to be this way. The hard truth for us to bear is that we are as lonely as we chose to be. No one forces us to stay up late staring at a tiny screen. No one forces us not to call our friends or video chat with our parents in another state. No one forces us not to go to a PTO meeting, a Bible Study or a Rotary Club lunch. Sometimes we let our hesitation and uncertainty do our choosing for us, but the responsibility is still on us.
Solitude is different from loneliness. Jesus often chose solitude. He went off on his own for prayer. You could say he began his ministry with 40 days of solitude in the wilderness to fast, pray and listen to the Holy Spirit. Solitude is healthy, it has a wholesome spiritual purpose that draws us back to God. Solitude and retreat are God-honoring spiritual disciplines. But loneliness is not. Loneliness drags us quickly into self-pity and despair. In loneliness we deliberately seek to isolate from God, family, friends and the world. Isolation is one of the most destructive tools of the devil on the human soul. The first step at escaping loneliness is the sober recognition that I myself have chosen it.
Cultivate friends. Friendship doesn’t happen by accident. We choose to be friendly and to put ourselves into regular social settings where we can meet, connect and sustain relationships. Texting doesn’t work here. Emails don’t hack it either. Cultivating and sustaining friends requires regular, frequent connection either physical presence or phone calls. Live, non-virtual, on-purpose connection is the avenue for friendship.
Take an interest in others. Ask them to tell you about themselves, their childhood, their family or what they like to do for fun. If you regularly make a habit of taking an interest in other people and spending large amounts of time listening to them, you will find yourself with a boatload of people who take an interest in being with you. At least one reason why Jesus had such crowds following him was that he took an interest in everyone from little children to elderly widows.
Reach outside your circle on a regular basis. Deliberately build some relationships with others who are outside your family or outside your neighborhood or outside your race or class. We have to work at this because it doesn’t happen naturally.
Talk to God about it. In chapter 14 of The Story we get the Biblical account of Elijah’s loneliness. He complained to God that he was the only faithful one left in all of Israel. God artfully disabused him of that notion revealing there were at least 7000 more! Elijah had chosen his loneliness and was relishing his self-pity. It’s never as bad as we think it is. No matter how despairing you feel right now, there’s probably at least 7000 other people in this world who would love to be connected with you. The challenge is that you’re going to need to make some different choices if you want to find them.
Don’t let the forces of life and the power of Satan lead you into disconnection and isolation. Battle back! Choose connection! Choose healthy relationships! Choose wholesome community! God made you for this!