LONELINESS AND MENTAL HEALTH
Gordon Johnston writes in chapter three of Foundations of Spiritual Formation that in 1965 Paul Simon touched many lonely souls with the classic pop/folk song, "I Am a Rock". Later he re-recorded it with Art Garfunkel, releasing the new version in 1966 as the final track on their album Sounds of Silence. Johnston continues by saying that the words of the song are evident of a wounded soul that has been hurt too many times.
Johnston says the loneliest people in the world have created an island unto themselves. He says they are unable to share their pain because of fear, pride, or anger. Some people choose to withdraw into a lonely place of screaming silence. A place where you feel no one cares. If the sounds of silence are familiar to you, know that there is still hope.
When people experience loneliness, their mental health deteriorates. Yes, it is okay to be lonely and be a Christian. It is normal to feel loneliness at various stages of life transition. Loneliness can be hard to admit, because loneliness and Christianity do not go together (so some may think). However, loneliness affects our psychological and emotional health and well-being.
Loneliness is a painful emotion that we need to pay attention to. It is important to be able to connect with someone when we feel lonely. The truth is that we all feel loneliness at one time or another. That is because God created us to be relational people. We manifest God’s spirit in relationship with others. Good mental health is the result of life-giving relationships.
The Importance of Community
When my children were young, I was concerned about the company they kept. I remembered the Bible quote; bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor 15:33). My concerns turned out to be valid. Wrong decisions and choices caused many years of suffering. For further study read Psalms 106:35-48, the consequences of rebellion. In short, the Israelites adopted customs and idols of the evil nations. When we play with fire, we get burnt.
Christian community provides us with the wisdom and accountability we all need. Trying to live solo was not God’s intention. We are created to live out our Christian lives in fellowship with others. This is a purposeful action that keeps self-centeredness under control. “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).
Community sharpens our relationship skills. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron.” We may have some friction in the process but come out better for it. The trusted advice of a Christian friend can sharpen one’s moral character. My motto is we are better together than alone.
Community provides fellowship. Churches can share activities, Bible study, support groups, or meals as a means of close connection. People become more relational in small groups. This forms strong bonds that unify the church and its mission.
Community provides support. Life is even more difficult to live as a loner. Not having a shoulder to lean on can surely bring on feelings of loneliness. If these feelings intensify other problems can arise. Addictions and pleasure seeking through whatever means relieves loneliness. Coping mechanisms are temporary. Connection to others fosters good mental health. A burden shared is easier to carry. God did not create us to travel through life alone.
I was born in the time where people did not have social media and phones were landlines. Like some of you, my grandkids help me with the computer and phone. I question the purpose of social media and wonder, is it really a social platform? I used to think social media helped with loneliness. I am not so sure anymore. We know that social media has increased suicide rates among adolescence and teens. Does it really connect people or isolate people?
Social media has caused many issues. The first is isolation. Many young people do not know how to have a conversation and prefer not to. Their phones are more important than the people around them. Conversation is a lost art for many. Texting is preferred.
My children are now in their forties. When they were young, I remember feeling alone on many occasions. It was a lonely job, changing diapers, feeding babies, and keeping the house clean. There were many other issues, money problems, career challenges, and marital issues. Many of these problems have not changed today. However, my kids played outside and had no devices. The world has certainly changed. Therefore, we must learn how to navigate these changes with our young people with integrity, parental guidance, and community.
The saying, “Suck it up buttercup” may be one more reason people respond with “I’m fine.” Is it pride, self-sufficiency, or is it whining to tell the truth about how you are doing? Why is it so important that everyone thinks all is well, when we are dying inside? Why not be truthful? My close relationships have come about through honesty and integrity. Relationships are reciprocal and should benefit both. Choose your friends wisely.
Relationships are important to one’s spirituality. According to many Christian leaders, living out our faith must be a communal effort. Modeling Christ would be the best example to follow. Jesus hand-picked the twelve disciples. They became his followers and traveling companions. We would do well to model Jesus’s life.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. That is the mission and purpose of a professing Christian. It is the responsibility of each of us to share the gospel. The way we live and how we treat people are examples of Christ on earth. Jesus commands us to go into all the world and share the gospel and make disciples (Matt 28:19). This is our purpose and responsibility. It is a cheap price to pay for our salvation.
How can we help with the loneliness in our world? It is simple. Talk to each other. Show Christian care to those around you. Go out of your way to visit the sick and the homebound. When you go grocery shopping, talk to the cashier. When you are dining out, talk to the server. Develop friendships in everyday activities. Offer to help by sharing your wealth. There is always someone less fortunate that needs a hug, a smile, or a friendly gesture. Our challenge is to make the world a better place – one person – one act of kindness at a time.