The Epidemic of Loneliness (Lou Priolo)
Loneliness has become a worldwide epidemic. It can be excruciatingly painful. What’s more, it can be deadly. Research now indicates that persistent loneliness (loneliness that lasts for more than two weeks) may be deadlier than alcohol abuse, obesity, and cigarette smoking. Lonely individuals may be at greater risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, anxiety (perhaps most notably, pessimism about their future), depression, poor cognitive performance, cognitive decline, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and dementia. They also are prone to be reckless. The intense pain and sadness they experience often impel them to try to tranquilize themselves by drinking excessively, cutting themselves, using illegal drugs, or practicing sexual promiscuity.
If you are reading this booklet, you are probably more familiar with the symptoms and miseries of loneliness than you want to be. But there may be a few details you have not yet considered. In the inventory below, I have assembled some of them in the hopes that you will be able to better understand the extent to which you may be experiencing loneliness.
Before you proceed, let me give you a word of hope. This booklet was designed not primarily to diagnose loneliness in the lives of Christians but to help to remedy it. So, regardless of what the inventory may reveal about your degree of loneliness, remember that there will be concrete, practical, biblical help and hope in the pages that follow.
Here then is a little inventory that may help you to identify some of the possible precondition issues or component elements of your loneliness.
- o I wish I had more and deeper friendships.
- o I wish people would call or visit me more often than they do.
- o I wonder who will help me or take care of me if I get into trouble.
- o I wish I had someone to bounce my ideas off.
- o I think I am unlovable (or a “loser”).
- o I wish I had more people with whom I could share my happy moments.
- o It seems nobody really understands me—no one appreciates who I really am.
- o I don’t have anyone I can really trust.
- o It seems that nobody needs me or wants to be with me.
- o I find myself struggling with intense feelings of loneliness even when I’m in a room full of people.
- o When I do make efforts to connect with others, my offers are not reciprocated.
- o I have thoughts and feelings of worthlessness.
- o I binge shop, snack, or stream (movies or TV shows).
- o I’m tempted to tranquilize my sad feelings by turning to temporal things rather than things of eternal significance.
- o I crave physical affection.
- o I crave physical warmth (blankets, hot baths, and beverages).
- o I allow my feelings of hopelessness and depression to keep me from regular personal Bible study and prayer.
- o I give in to self-pity.
- o I spend more than two hours each day on social media (other than for business purposes).
- o I enter unhealthy relationships, or stay in them, out of fear of being alone.
- o I find myself increasingly participating in irresponsible or reckless activities.
- o I spend too much time by myself.
- o I find it difficult to find and make new friends.
Please keep in mind that even though you may be experiencing some of the above symptoms, we have not conclusively proved the cause is loneliness. A sore throat may be indicative of a cold, the flu, or something much worse. We will address some of the issues from the inventory in the following pages.
But our goal is not primarily to eliminate the indicators but to treat the infection, whatever or wherever it may be.
You Are in Good Company
Can you think of anyone in Scripture who struggled with loneliness? “I’ve never really thought that much about it. But I do know that no temptation can overtake me but that which is common to man. Other than maybe Naomi in the book of Ruth, and the prophet Jeremiah, I can’t recall too many.”
These are good examples. Naomi was bereft of her husband and two sons. And Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, was told by God not to marry, and his life increasingly became more difficult.
Here are three more biblical examples. Elijah said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God
of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10). King David was also well acquainted with loneliness: “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul” (Ps. 142:4). The apostle Paul was abandoned by one of his closest friends and left alone. He wrote to Timothy,
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. (2 Tim. 4:9–11)
In one of the most fascinating accounts in the New Testament, God opened up a door of ministry for Paul, yet he didn’t go through it. Why? Some believe it may have been loneliness that caused him to take a different path:
When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia. (2 Cor. 2:12–13)
Loneliness is a common experience. It can be complex. It has many causes. It may or may not be the result of sin, but it can tempt one into sin—or further sin. God’s grace is sufficient to help Christians to deal with each aspect of loneliness—its sources, its symptoms, its seductions, and its sting.
*This article is excerpted from Lou Priolo’s new booklet, LONELINESS: Connecting with God and Others.