The Loneliness Epidemic: Misconceptions about Loneliness (Part 1)

We all have misconceptions about loneliness -why we’re lonely, what should “fix” our loneliness, how God and others perceive our loneliness etc. Until we expose and disarm these misconceptions we will continue retreating deeper and deeper into the cave of loneliness. The misconceptions we hold come from a myriad of places -upbringing, past relationships, experience, media, social media, teachings from church, school, or home etc. Let’s look at some of these misconceptions that often paralyze us and drive us deeper into the cave of loneliness.

I am lonely because there is something wrong with me.

I’m going to let Dr. Henry Cloud respond to that,

Isolated people who fail to bond aren’t bad; they just think they’re bad. An alone self seems to be an unloved self, and that translates to a “bad self.”…This creates a problem for many people because they feel as though they have done something wrong to cause their feeling of badness. They feel guilty and try all sorts of ways to assuage the guilt. They confess and confess and confess, they read their Bible, they attend classes at church or watch biblical teaching online, they volunteer at the local homeless shelter. Yet they still can’t seem to feel forgiven. They can’t feel forgiven because the root of this kind of guilt is not sin; it’s loneliness and isolation.[i]

I can’t begin to tell you how often I have found myself stuck in this rut believing if I just try a little harder or pray a little more I’ll finally be free of my guilt or shame. Yet I find that, not only is it fruitless, it is oftentimes counterproductive, driving me deeper into my unwarranted guilt.

It’s no wonder Paul said in Ephesians 4:16 that when each part of the body of Christ is working properly it, “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Emphasis added) When we have good relationships in the body of Christ, we are built up or edified. We are confronted in our sin, challenged in our complacency, and comforted in our trials. But loneliness leaves us basking in our shame with no one to help free us.

No one would understand what I am going through.

We know from the statistics that roughly half of the people we encounter on a daily basis understand exactly how we feel. Just like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, our isolation leads us to believe that no one else understands. Why is that? Because our refusal to open up to others invariably closes the door that allows others to open up to us.

We misjudge others because we look at their circumstances from the outside, and they look much better from where we stand. I remember a time that Carrie went through a season of depression. She would look at others and in particular, a lady at our church and think, “She seems so happy and has it all together.”

She decided to go to this lady and open up about her anxiety and depression; what she discovered stunned her. The lady told her that she had also been facing the same battle for some time. They both were in shock. Neither would have ever guessed the other was facing such dark times, but neither would have known if one had not shared. As Carrie continued sharing her struggle with others, she discovered more people than she would have imagined had encountered exactly the same battle. Believe me when I say, more people than you think understand what you’re facing.

If someone did understand, he/ she would not care.

What if I open up to someone who doesn’t understand, and he looks at me like I’m an idiot?

What if I open up to someone who does understand and she doesn’t care?

Those of us who have been through the ringer know how to empathize. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:4 that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted.”

Dr. Henry Cloud said, “People want to see our needs so they can get a chance to love us in return.”[ii]

Consider the inverse -How would you feel if someone shared her feelings of loneliness with you? I’d venture to say that you would empathize with her. If you could not empathize, you would most certainly sympathize. Why? Because we were created for relationship; we are relational beings (even men). When someone shares something personal it opens the opportunity to connect, and connection is the enemy of loneliness.

I’m surrounded by people all the time; I shouldn’t feel lonely.

While surrounding yourself with people is a huge step, it does not “cure” loneliness. The fact is, you can be in a room full of people and feel just as lonely as you would in an empty room (sometimes even lonelier because seeing others chattering and laughing only exacerbates the feeling of loneliness). At the same time, you could be in the company of only one other person with whom you are deeply connected and not feel the slightest tinge of loneliness.

The nemesis of loneliness is not crowds but connection. Jesus was surrounded by throngs of people on a regular basis, but he often had to break free from the crowds in order to connect with his closest friends. The most intimate scenes in the life of Jesus are seen in the context of one-on-one conversations. This is why so many believers are disheartened by their inability to connect with anyone at church (a topic into which we will delve next time).

My prayer for you is that you will find the courage to step out of your cave of loneliness and find the courage to connect with someone else. Is that a risky move? You bet it is, but the invaluable return is worth the risk. The next post will lend itself to some potentially controversial subject matter, but I hope you will read it with an open mind as we attempt to overcome this loneliness epidemic. Until next time, may God bless you in your journey of growth.

 

[i] Dr. Henry Cloud, Changes that Heal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), 77.

[ii] Ibid, 87.

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