Cigna released their U.S. Loneliness Survey this month and reported that loneliness among Americans has reached "epidemic levels." Their survey of over 20,000 Americans found that nearly half reported sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent). The survey used a 20-item questionnaire that assesses subjective feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
The potential effects of loneliness on health are well established. A 2013 study on loneliness showed elevated levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which can increase the risk of heart disease, dementia, and Type 2 diabetes and suicide attempts.
Loneliness is prevalent in society. The rising numbers of single adults, the breakdown of the family and the loss of neighborhood and community have all contributed to an immense sense of loneliness in many people's lives.
Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University reports loneliness peaks in adolescents and young adults, then again in older adults. She says, “Older adults should not be the sole focus of the effects of loneliness. We need to address this for all ages.”
Tom Wolfe the great American novelist who just recently passed away wrote, "Loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and a few solitary men, is a central and inevitable fact of human existence."
If you feel lonely remember God cares for you. He knows about loneliness. Jesus experienced the greatest loneliness of all when the Father forsook him on the cross. God knows and cares.
The response to loneliness may be to take up a new hobby, make more time for friends or get a pet. Loneliness is seen as something bad and we must take action to overcome it. But God can help transform it into something beneficial for us.
Loneliness can cause us to seek God in a deeper way
We are so busy we often leave little time for God. When we are alone God has the opportunity to speak to us and receive our undivided attention. Nine times in the gospels we are told that Jesus went away to a lonely place to be with the father. Jesus sought out solitude so he could seek the father's will for his life.
Many of the early church fathers were called desert fathers because they sought out the desert as a lonely place to find God. In fact, the Hebrew word for lonely can also be translated as solitude or desert.
When we are alone and seek after God we will be rewarded. He will give us increased discernment so desperately needed today. This kind of guidance and wisdom does not come without setting apart time to be with God.
Sometimes God causes us to seek him by driving us to him through the loneliness we experience. We can get angry, depressed or we can see it as a gift. Loneliness is a great benefit if we have drawn closer to Christ.
Loneliness can be used by God to develop our character
In loneliness God reveals our weaknesses and works on changing them. God will test and even increase our patience while we wait in our loneliness. Our deficiencies, insecurities and defense mechanisms are revealed in our aloneness, which God can then use to strengthen our character.
Paul knew the power of weaknesses becoming strengths when he said, "When I am weak then I am strong." When we are alone our commitment is tested and our true character shines through. Being faithful alone gives us confidence we can be faithful in community.
Amy Carmichael knew about loneliness. She was a missionary to India for 55 years and twice because of accidents had to spend months alone. In her solitude she wrote many books.
In one of her books, “Gold By Midnight,” there is a boy who takes a walk in the woods and in the deepest, darkest place finds a patch of lovely orchids. In that lonely place God brought forth great beauty. And God can cultivate beauty in your character through loneliness.
Loneliness can inspire us to greater creativity
Carl Sandburg wrote, "Shakespeare, Leonardo de Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln never saw a movie, heard a radio or looked at a TV. They had loneliness and knew what to do with it. They were not afraid of being lonely because they knew that then the creative mood in them would work."
Creative problem solvers are needed in our world. Imagine the great things God would do if we could tap into His creativity for us. I recently spent five days alone writing. I had so many insights and got so much more done alone than I could when I am around people.
In "Life Together" Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote about the need for community and solitude. He said, "If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ's call to you and you can have no part in the community of those who are called." He wrote such strong words because he knew the importance of time alone with God.
God wants to give us dreams and visions of what can be done through us and that can come through aloneness. Your greatest achievement may be birthed out of your loneliness.
Loneliness can create in us a desire to serve
When we are away from people we can come to appreciate humanity more. What we learn in our loneliness can give us a heightened sensitivity to others. There is a time apart and there is also a time to be in community.
True community involves our serving one another in love. Sometimes the very fact of our loneliness results from our sitting instead of serving.
A boy once asked a lonely old man, "What is life's heaviest burden?" The man responded by saying, "To have nothing to carry." We are needed to do a work no one else but us can do.
In our loneliness we can see what needs there are and then determine how God can use us to meet them. There is so much to be done and God may have to put us in a lonely place for a season so that we can get a greater burden to serve.
God makes a home for the lonely. It is a place where he can work in us it is a place that can be very beneficial for us. It is not a place to avoid for we are never alone. God will never forsake us, but he will transform us.