Answering the Loneliness Epidemic
By Larry Tomczak
It’s a Beatles classic still played fifty years after it came out, and it strikes a chord with multitudes because we so identify with its theme.
“Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ah, look at all the lonely people.”
A century before, Henry David Thoreau captured the same issue of loneliness. He stated, “The mass of humanity live lives of quiet desperation.”
From a biblically-informed perspective, we know there are three basic needs of humankind:
1. Transcendence – reaching beyond physical to spiritual
2. Significance – having a purpose in life
3. Relationship – having human connectivity/friendship
God designed us for meaningful human interaction. He stated in Creation, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
The Loneliness Pandemic
This year the United Kingdom made political history by instituting a new government position, “The Minister for Loneliness”. Facing a serious national health problem stemming from increasing social isolation, the initiative was launched because of the alarming numbers of people experiencing dementia, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and suicide.
Former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published in the Harvard Business Review his concern. “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw wasn’t heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.”
We must face the brutal reality of a serious crisis, a growing epidemic of loneliness in our society today. Ironically, research shows its most prevalent among younger people who feel they’re the most “connected” yet, in reality, lack meaningful relationships and real interpersonal support.
Primary Reason for the Problem
Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”
The father of our faith, Abraham, came into a relationship with his Creator and scripture said he was not merely a servant but “the friend of God” (James 2:23).
Likewise, Jesus reassured His disciples they were not just coworkers but “friends” (John15:15). Friendship is a basic human need designed by God, and He intends for us to first and foremost find it in Him.
What a difference this represents in Christianity from other world religions having a distant, angry “Allah” figure or multiple, mysterious entities that must be appeased by performance and good works.
So in our society increasingly drifting from an authentic relationship with the true living God, it should not surprise us when the void is left unfulfilled. “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every human being that cannot be filled by any human thing but only by the Creator Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ,” said 17th-century French theologian Blaise Pascal.
The Social Media Solution
Mobility in society, casual divorce, dissolution of the family, and unsatisfactory promiscuity and “one night stands” exacerbate lonely living and the continued quest to satisfy the friendship factor.
“What about social media and the advantage of incredible connectivity?”
Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite of what scores have come to believe. Facebook, Twitter or any of the many modern-day supposed friendship-building, connectivity-enhancing services give scores the illusion of multiple friendships that are often simply superficial substitutes for human contact. This is not the same as quality interaction and intimate friendship.
Authentic friendships require an investment of time, what Aristotle called “sharing salt”- not just sitting together passing the salt across the table but sitting with another across the course of their lives, sharing its savor.
“The desire for friendship comes quickly; friendship does not” (Aristotle).
Addressing an Addiction
Admit it or not, Americans are distracted by and addicted to social media rather than socializing. Survey numerous studies that show similar findings: 33% would rather text than talk on the phone; 3 in 4 Americans bring their phones to bed; 25% say the last thing they see before retiring is their phone; 93% sleep with their phones within arms reach; 55% acknowledge they are missing out on valuable time with family and friends but still do it; and, 45% of Americans admit they have not made a new friend in five years.
Defeating loneliness and developing substantive versus superficial friendships starts by repenting, receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then committing to obey His Word as revealed in Scripture.
Next, we use our smartphones and computers wisely and purposefully. We make a quality decision to not let them become a substitute for real friendship building. We also purpose to drop the excuses for a lack of meaningful friendships like:
“I don’t like going to new places.”
“I’ve been betrayed/dumped.”
“Texting is more convenient.”
“Human interaction is risky.”
“I fear being rejected.”
Dealing with loneliness and developing meaningful friendships are significant for our emotional, mental and spiritual health.
Jesus in His humanity modeled for us the need to grow in four major areas: mind, body, spirit, and community. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with man” (Luke 2:40).