Loneliness has become an epidemic in the West. A survey conducted by the global health service company Cigna found that nearly half of Americans felt that they were alone or left out, and more than a quarter of Americans felt as if they had no one in their life that really understood them. Two in every five Americans said that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others. These numbers are horrifying. More than half of America truly feels alone.Human beings are social creatures. They are meant to be part of a group or tribe, not isolated and alone. This is why solitary confinement is such a harsh punishment. Unfortunately, Cigna’s survey makes it clear that Americans may be able to see and interact with each other on a regular basis, but those interactions lack any sort of intimacy or meaningful connection. They are surface conversations and shallow relationships, the sort of thing where you are constantly making small talk rather than diving into any sort of serious topic of conversation. There is, of course, a time and a place for those lighthearted conversations. The breakroom at work is not necessarily the best place to get into a serious discussion of why suffering exists in the world. Those conversations should be saved for a close friend. When it comes to making light conversation while you wait for the coffee to finish brewing, weekend plans, sports games and the weather make for perfectly reasonable topics of conversation. Unfortunately, too many people have lots of those light conversations but do not have anyone with whom they can jump into those deeper conversations. This is when people begin to feel alone even when they are surrounded by others.
“Epidemic” seems like such a strong word for something as common as loneliness, but feelings of being alone are no laughing matter. Loneliness has been shown to cause elevated levels of stress hormones, inflammation, heart disease, increased risk of dementia, Type 2 diabetes, insomnia, anxiety, depression and suicide. Feeling lonesome is no laughing matter, and it is plaguing modern society. Part of this is likely the decline of actual face to face human interaction.
What if there is more to your loneliness? What if God is making you lonely for a reason?
God works in mysterious ways. This is well known. He is also fond of using unpleasant circumstances to force His people to grow and change in ways that conform with His plans. So, if you are feeling lonely, you need to consider what is going on in your life. Are you lonely because you are not putting yourself out there and meeting new people? If so, you should take up a new hobby, take a class or join a local organization in order to help you meet other people. If you have been trying to make new friends but have been stymied at every turn, it is time to consider that God may be getting in your way of meeting new people.
It seems baffling to consider. Why in the world would God want you to be alone? The answer is likely because the times when you are alone are the times when you can best hear what God is asking you to do. Time by yourself may force you to reexamine your own character and flaws. This forced self-reflection can lead you to expunge vices from your life and remove the flaws that are getting in the way of living your best life.
Loneliness can also inspire creativity and motivation to seek God. Many poets, artists and writers do their work in solitude. If you are alone, it may be because there is something beautiful inside of you that God wants you to set free. The creativity He is allowing you to seek does not have to be the artistic sort of creativity found in painting or music. It may be that you need to be alone so that you can think creatively and problem solve. Your loneliness might also be because God is calling you to seek Him and listen to Him. When you are surrounded by your friends and your busy life, it is easy to put God on the backburner. When you are alone, however, you can hear that divine whisper in your ear and turn your attention back to God.
Feeling alone can also be God’s way of reminding you of how much you normally have in your life. Your loneliness could be God telling you to reassess and appreciate those loved ones that you already have in your life. There is truth to the old phrase “you do not know what you have until you lose it.” A period of loneliness can cause a person to cultivate a greater sense of how blessed they are in this world.
Increasing thankfulness and gratitude is a good thing on its own, but loneliness can also push you to better serve your community. Loneliness increases your sensitivity to others. You are more aware of the plights of others, and often are more interested in helping them. You may want to help those who are feeling even more alone than you, or you might have come to be thankful for what you do have and want to help those who have less than you. Either motivation is born of your time spent alone and is a way that God may induce you to stop focusing on yourself and begin helping your community more.
Loneliness is not pleasant to experience, but it can be the tool God uses to craft you into a force for good in your life and the lives of those around you. One can only hope that the recent epidemic of loneliness means that God is currently a very busy craftsman and is creating a veritable tsunami of good things that simply need a little longer in the forge of loneliness before they are ready to change the world.