Pull Yourself Out of Isolation
Reach Someone Who is Isolated
Many years ago, I was in the bathtub late one night with tears streaming down my cheeks. A strong, overwhelming urge came over me: just slip further and end my life.
I was a wife, a mother of three small children whom I was homeschooling, and very active in my church. By all accounts, people would describe me as happy, bubbly, and positive. Yet at that point in my life, I never felt more alone and isolated. No one would understand the private pain in my heart, I thought.
Sermons or gentle reprimands about my lagging devotional life would be unhelpful. I wanted peace. My aching heart needed comfort. I wanted someone to care.
Alone in the Crowd
From the beginning, God recognized that we should not be alone. Human to human interaction is important for our well-being (Genesis 2:18). But being lonely is quite different from being alone. Even while surrounded by people, we can still feel lonely. Loneliness is “perceived social isolation, or the discrepancy between what you want from your social relationships and your perception of those relationships.” See the work of John Cacioppo, University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience (Fortune, June 6, 2016).
Loneliness can be emotional, such as when we lose the close companionship of someone we desire to be with such as a spouse, sibling, or friend; as well as social, such as when we are lacking a broad social network or group of friends. It can also be self-feeding. A 2010 AARP survey of people 45 years old and older found that respondents who indicated that they were lonely “were less likely to be involved in activities that build social networks,” and this includes attending church, as well as participating in volunteer or community-based activities with other people.
Dangers of Opting Out
Each week, many people opt for digital worship where they tune in to a weekly livestreamed church service as a means of receiving the Word. Jude Boyer-Patrick, medical director for two mental health facilities, Thrive Behavioral Health and BTST, learned from personal experience. While there are benefits to being able to watch a church service online (as in staying home due to illness), there is definitely a different vibe worshiping on a screen versus being there in the flesh.
“I felt distant, as if viewing from afar,” Boyer-Patrick says. “I found my mind wandering instead of being a real part of the service.” Attending church brings a certain “warmth” to the service that a digital format lacks.
“It’s like taking a coal from the fire and setting it apart—it grows cold.” She also points out that attending church regularly is not an antidote for loneliness, but the loneliness can be more pronounced if you are just attending and not taking an active part in the fellowship
Social Media Blues
Others attempt to reach outside of their loneliness via social media, but some studies have pointed to social media adding to feelings of loneliness. Katherine Hobson of NPR reported (March 3, 2017) that as researchers look more closely at this possibility, they are finding that the connection may be tied to what we actually do on social media, versus social media itself being a culprit.
Browsing through profiles and comments, while not interacting or engaging, can bring about a temporary satisfaction to loneliness because while surfing, you can forget about your own loneliness. That feeling soon fades, and feelings of loneliness can increase, however.
Another potential downside with social media (and in interpersonal interactions as well) is the temptation to compare your life to those on social media. The constant display of someone else’s happy selfies, personal achievement, and stories of a vibrant social life can, by comparison, make us feel that our lives are boring and insignificant.
Loneliness can also impact our physical health. The Harvard Study of Adult Development found that loneliness in men is deadly, pointing out the connection between isolation and lack of happiness in people and its effects on brain function and physical health. Additional research shows that lacking social connections affects our heart health, blood pressure, and increases our chance of coronary heart disease, stroke, and death in much the same way as smoking 15 cigarettes a day would.
How Jesus Responded to People Forced into Lonelieness
The woman with the issue of blood as mentioned in Luke 8:43-48 was quarantined from her community of believers and treated as an outcast in society because of her medical condition.
I wonder if her prognosis was exacerbated by her forced isolation. In spite of that, she gathered her courage and was healed by reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. Interestingly, the Bible records more instances where Jesus Himself reached out and touched others in the act of healing them (see Matthew 8:2-3; 14-15; 9:25, 29-30; Mark 6:4-6; 7:32-35; 8:22-25; Luke 13:11-13; 22:50-51).
Jesus can relate to our loneliness. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and He is our High Priest who understands our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).
Give–and Receive–a Healing Touch
There is much to be said about a gentle touch, or a hug from someone—without judgment, condemnation, or scorn—just love, and genuine concern. But it first took me to step out in an act of faith, and go after my healing. I called upon some prayer warriors from my church to pray with me. No questions—just prayer. I sobbed as I lay prostrate in the darkness on my living room floor, with the phone next to my ear; listening to my sisters intercede on my behalf. As a flood of relief washed over me, I knew that I was not alone, and Someone did care.
Later that same night, one of the women who had prayed for me came to my home and sat up all night with me; softly reading from the book of Psalms and rubbing my back until I fell asleep. I don’t know when she left, and she never mentioned it when she saw me in church.
When loneliness knocks at my heart, I remember that it can be a temporary feeling—it doesn’t have to stay. I remember that there is power in prayer; power in God’s Word; and power in the fellowship of godly believers.
“Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” James 4:7,8.