Dealing with Loneliness: Christian Counseling and Community
As society becomes more and more dependent on technology, social isolation is growing – and loneliness doesn’t just impact on mental health but also has a significant effect on physical health, too (New York Times, 2017.) Loneliness raises stress hormone levels, causes inflammation, and increases your risk of experiencing heart disease, arthritis, dementia, and Type 2 diabetes.
The Decline of Community
If it were possible to travel back thirty, fifty or a hundred years in time, today’s young people would hardly recognize the world. Before cell phones and home computers, social media and WhatsApp, social isolation was something that was only experienced by the elderly and those choosing to live on the fringes of society. Community was much more an aspect of daily life, but now, the concept of community is in sharp decline.
Community connectedness has been replaced by an individualistic society that leads to people feeling sad and lonely, isolated by a lack of connection with others. It almost seems as if human beings have forgotten that we are, by nature, social beings. Because we can communicate on social media, we don’t see the same need to gather in public spaces for face-to-face interaction.
Made to Be in Relationship
The Bible has a lot of wisdom to share about why loneliness has such a profound effect on our physical and mental health. Man is made in God’s image and God, as Trinity, is always in relationship. The interconnectedness of the Holy Trinity is built into human personality, so that when we step back from relationship and enter into individualism, we’re entering a state that’s contrary to our nature.
Jesus is our model for what it means to be in human relationship. From his birth into a traditional nuclear family, He grew to launch His ministry by calling others to follow Him and be His disciples. Although He enjoyed time in solitude, praying on mountainsides, even then He was not alone in those times of isolation, He was in the company of His Father and the Spirit.
If Jesus lived His life in relationship, then it makes sense that we, too, should live our lives in relationship. Without relationship, we fall into being lonely, but in a society that promotes individualism over community, how are we meant to approach dealing with loneliness?
Taking a Biblical Approach
Father to the fatherless, defender of widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families. – Psalm 68:5-6a
In this beautiful passage from Psalm 68, David exalts our God who never wants His children to feel lonely. But verse 6a, “God places the lonely in families”, isn’t referring to our biological or nuclear families.
Christian community – the local church – is the family in which every Christian should be able to find relief from loneliness. The family of God isn’t united by blood but by love, which is at the very heart of our faith. In our churches, there is the relationship that the Trinity models for us, an interconnectedness that should be the antidote to loneliness.
I say should, however, because even our churches have fallen victim to the individualism of secular society. We even read the Bible from an individualistic perspective – but the text of the New Testament is (more often than not) focused on the plural rather than the singular: “our Father,” “give us,” “our Lord”, rather than “my father,” “give me,” and “my Lord.”
If you feel lonely even though you are a part of a church, you may need to ask yourself whether your church has a community spirit to it and whether you’re attempting to take part in the community of your church family. If your church lacks a community spirit, what can you do to help foster that kind of spirit?
In a family, everyone is responsible for building and strengthening relationships – don’t wait for someone else to take action while you’re dealing with loneliness. Just as Jesus didn’t wait for His disciples to come to Him, but sought them out, we should seek to build relationships with our church family when we’re feeling alone.
Offering Hope to the Sad and Lonely Christian
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other. – John 15:12-17
If you know someone who struggles with loneliness, you may wonder how you can help them. It can seem difficult to help someone who feels lonely even when they’re a part of a Christian community. As Christians, we’re called by Jesus to care for one another and Jesus Himself tells us what we need to do to help someone who is dealing with loneliness.
Jesus’ biggest command (after telling us to love God) was that we love each other. That is how we help someone battling with loneliness. We love them and we encourage them to love others. Sometimes loneliness is a learned behavior, where someone has developed a habit of isolating themselves. Encouraging them to love others in the community by taking action helps to break the patterns of self-isolation.
The early church operated as a community that loved and served one another. While there’s no way of knowing whether loneliness was a problem during the first couple of hundred years of Christianity, it seems unlikely.
Christianity was (and still is) love in action, and the interconnectedness of Christians in the early church left little room for loneliness. We need to recapture that interconnectedness to reverse the lasting damage that the epidemic of loneliness is causing.
Dealing With Loneliness By Being Alone With God
Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Sometimes, you can feel lonely in the middle of a crowded room. If you feel that way, the best answer may be to take some time out to be alone with God. Strengthening your relationship with your Heavenly Father can help you cope better when you feel alone — because with God you are never alone.
Praying, journaling, reading Scripture and even sitting in silence with God can help you refocus on Him and depend more on Him. Having a strong connection with God enables you to cope better with feelings of loneliness by focusing your attention away from yourself and onto God.
Building your relationship with God can also help you relate better to other people. It gives you a stronger foundation for loving and being loved. God’s love is a powerful weapon against feelings of loneliness, so it’s important to find time to receive that love.
How Christian Counseling Can Help When You Feel Alone
Loneliness can, however, persist even if you are a part of a vibrant, community-spirited church family and have a strong relationship with God. There can be a variety of reasons for this, such as past events or trauma, social anxiety, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and low self-esteem. Maybe you intentionally withdraw from your family, friends, and community, and that is why you’re experiencing loneliness.
If that’s the case, then you may find it beneficial to seek a Christian counselor who can help you work through the underlying causes of your isolation and loneliness. Christian counseling can also help if you are in a co-dependent relationship that has left you with real difficulties coping with being alone.
Damaging experiences in childhood – for example, growing up with abusive or neglectful parents – can lead to long-standing trust issues and difficulties with intimacy. Working through your feelings with an experienced Christian counselor can heal the wounds of the past and allow you to invest more into life as part of your church family.
Freedom From Loneliness
Loneliness may have become an epidemic in our technology-focused, individualistic society, but you can break free from its damaging effects. Whether it’s through spending more time with God and deepening your relationship with Him, helping to foster a stronger community spirit in your church, or seeking the help of a Christian counselor, you can stop loneliness from ruling your life and stealing your joy
“Lost in the Fog”, Courtesy of Fabrizio Verrecchia, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pray for one another”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Through trackless wastes”, Courtesy of Andrew DesLauriers, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fellowship”, Courtesy of Helena Lopes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License