What do we owe people who are lonely?
The answer is to be there for them, but it’s not so simple.
It’s complex because we play both roles, sometimes the lonely and other times the one comforting the lonely.
Most will experience periodic loneliness in their lifetime. And loneliness isn’t always about being physically separated from others. It can happen when we feel that we are not understood by others. A 2019 survey (before the global pandemic) utilized by health insurance company, Cigna, found that 61% in this country had feelings of loneliness.
So since we’ve been there, we have empathy for those who are experiencing it.
But we’ve also played the role of trying to alleviate loneliness in others. That can be tough. There’s just one of us. And there’s a lot of loneliness in the world.
There are three things that can help.
First, we can be there for others when we can and where we can. When we serve the lonely this way, we get back more than we give.
But like so many things in life, there needs to be a balance. Helping others is the right thing to do. Understanding that we must live the gift of our life to the fullest is the right thing to do, too. Both can happen. Know when to give to others and when to be kind to yourself.
Next, we can start thinking about our own responsibility in assuaging loneliness.
Many have retirement financial portfolios. A plan is developed, starting during the early working years, to one day retire with financial security. Perhaps we should also develop an anti-loneliness portfolio, a plan for warding off loneliness as we age.
There are several tools we can put in our anti-loneliness portfolio.
Being mobile is one of them. The longer we can stay healthy, the more we’ll be able to get out of the house in order to connect with others. For some, because of health problems that are no fault of their own, this isn’t an option. For everyone else, taking care of our body is the vehicle that will put distance between us and loneliness.
Geography is an important factor. If it’s possible, make a plan to live near your family or closest friends. Long distance relationships can work. It works better, though, when we’re in close proximity.
And be a lifelong relationship builder. Despite our best efforts, old age may eventually make us home-bound and dependent upon visitors. There’s no age limit, though, to being a welcoming host or hostess to guests. One of the most meaningful tributes given to my father when he passed away was that when you walked through his doorway, he greeted you as though he had been waiting the whole day just to see you. Visits were treasured.
Stay healthy. Stay close. And stay humble. All great tools to put in an anti-loneliness portfolio.
Lastly, there’s the whole way we look at loneliness. It needn’t be something that we strive to completely eliminate from our lives because solitude can lead us to God. In “The Bible in a Year” podcast with the Rev. Mike Schmitz, he explains a story in the Book of Ecclesiastes. “Against a small city with few men in it advanced a mighty king, who surrounded it and threw up great siegeworks about it. But in the city lived a man who, though poor, was wise, and he delivered it through his wisdom. Yet no one remembered the poor man.” In his day, the poor, wise man was a hero who accomplished a tremendous victory. But now he’s forgotten.
Being forgotten is something that will eventually happen to all of us. It’s ironic that we put up such a big fight against loneliness until we realize this. But the One who will never forget us is God. Seek Him when you’re lonely.
And so the answer to the question of what we owe people who are lonely is to do what we can for them.
Then, do all we can for ourselves.