A Familiar Experience
The first night in his freshman college dorm, Karl felt sick to his stomach. He thought he was ready for college, but he was not ready for this sadness. He had never been homesick in his life and felt terribly lonely.
It was the first Sunday back in church since Sarah’s husband, Frank, had died six months ago. They had been married for 43 years and had attended the same church and sat in the same pew for most of those years. Everyone had told her that she needed to get back into the church, and she thought she was ready. Even though the church was packed on this Sunday and everyone was welcoming, without Frank next to her, she felt very lonely.
Sue stood in the driveway as the children drove away down the street. She waved until the car was completely out of sight. She enjoyed these times when they came to visit so much, but it was the same every time they left. The next few days would feel awfully lonely.
The Feeling of Disconnect
Loneliness is a feeling of sadness that results from being disconnected with people. It can be the result of the absence of people like those times right after the children leave to return home, during the adjustment period after the death of a spouse, or when you leave church and go home to have lunch alone. But loneliness can also be the result of feeling disconnected even when you are surrounded by people, like the college freshman who is homesick while being in a dorm with three hundred other students, a first time guest who is lonely in a church sanctuary with twelve hundred other worshippers, or the widow who feels lonely in the grief support group with eight others who also recently lost a spouse.
Loneliness is no respecter of persons. The elderly and the teenager can all suffer from loneliness. God created us to be in a relationship with Him. It was God who said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement” (Genesis 2:18). Loneliness was a condition while Adam was still in the Garden of Eden.
At some point, all of us will feel lonely. Fortunately, there are some things we can do to assuage the loneliness. Here are six ideas to help with those lonely feelings:
1. Turn loneliness into solitude.
The experience of aloneness can be an opportunity to develop a greater awareness of self and God. Loneliness becomes solitude when we use the experience to become familiar with the inner images, inner messages, inner ideas of our internal world. In her last tweet before she died, Maya Angelou, the American poet, said, “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
Think of ways that you can be intentional about your alone time:
- Set aside specific times in your day which you can think of as “solitude” time.
- Use your solitude time to journal.
- Use your solitude time to write notes to others.
- Use your solitude time as your personal time alone with God.
- Use your solitude time to develop your personal interests with online learning or other forms of self-improvement.
2. Anticipate times when you know that aloneness will be difficult.
Do not allow aloneness to surprise you.
- If you know the children are leaving Sunday afternoon, plan now how you will spend Sunday afternoon and evening.
- If you know that you will be alone this year for Thanksgiving, plan now how you will spend Thanksgiving.
- If you know that your wedding anniversary is coming up and no one is likely to remember, plan now of how you want to spend the day.
By anticipating and planning ahead, you can keep from being surprised by loneliness.
3. Do not allow yourself to be isolated.
When we are feeling lonely, the temptation is to stay home, pull the covers over our heads, and never leave the house. Don’t do that. Instead, make yourself stay involved with others. Look at your schedule and make plans for as many days or nights as possible—book clubs, Bible study groups, athletic teams, church events. Each of these are opportunities to develop friendships and to enlarge your support group.
One of the best ways to keep from being lonely is to volunteer. Find groups in which you have some interest and volunteer. My wife recently started walking dogs at the animal shelter. Schools often need volunteers. Look into your grandchildren’s schools for volunteer opportunities. Church groups often have needs for volunteers. Find somewhere that your interests and passions are needed.
5. Develop new hobbies or interests.
There are so many new ways to learn new interests.
- Continuing education
- Online learning
- Cooking classes
- Ceramic classes
- Language classes
- Exercise classes
- Swimming classes and water aerobics
- The experience of learning new skills and discovering new interests is an excellent way of avoiding loneliness.
6. Replace self-defeating thoughts.
One of the things that will make you isolate is your own negative thinking. How many times have you thought something like this:
- “Nobody wants to be around me now.”
- “I won’t have fun.”
- “It will be better for others if I am not around.”
- “I don’t have anything to contribute.”
- “It will only make me feel worse to be around others.”
We have to learn to hear the negative self-talk and stop it.
The experience of loneliness can be very distressing. These are just a few ideas that can help when you find yourself in a very lonely place.