At times when our community gathers in family groups there are many who are lonely. Myriam Salcedo-Gonzalu offers some words of comfort to those disconnected from family.
But not today. Today was Christmas Day and I wanted to be with my family on Christmas! If I only could hear my father's and my brother's voices. But at that time, we could not afford international phone calls.
It was loneliness that made me leave the house to walk aimlessly for long hours through the streets of Madrid. Alone in the midst of a crowd, my loneliness was not caused by physical separation from other human beings; there were plenty of people around. I felt isolated and sad because I was separated from those I loved most and who loved me.
Alone versus lonely
Increasingly in Western societies, people are living alone, either by choice or circumstance. However, being alone is not necessarily the same as being lonely.
Sometimes we seek to be alone, to have solitude to think, study, meditate or pray.
Loneliness, on the other hand, makes us feel like we have no or very few friends.
We feel invisible to others, and people seem not to bother getting acquainted with us. When we're lonely, we often feel sad, and we may wonder why no-one cares about us.
Living with other people does not necessarily relieve loneliness. For example, elderly people who live with their relatives report feeling more loneliness than those who live alone, and teenagers, who almost always live with someone, report some of the highest feelings of loneliness.
Since the 1970s, psychologist Dan Kiley has studied the “living together loneliness” (LTL) syndrome, especially among married people. His research indicates that this syndrome is common among married women between the ages of 33 and 46 who live an otherwise relatively comfortable life. Kiley reports these women feel nobody understands them.
They feel emotionally isolated even when they are in the same room with their husbands and complain that their husbands pay little attention to their needs but treat them like a piece of furniture. Kiley also states that people who feel trapped in a relationship feel lonelier than those who live alone.1
But we can't assume that loneliness is only a women's problem. Goldberg asserts that men do not even acknowledge their isolation. They have professional relationships and sports and recreational acquaintances; but men have a more difficult time than women establishing friendship.2
Health effects of loneliness
Research has shown that when people talk about feelings of loneliness, their blood pressure rises dramatically for a few minutes, and medical conditions such as heart problems, diabetes and arthritis become worse. Loneliness can also lead to depression, and a depressed person is four times more likely to develop heart problems than others. How do we explain the fact that one in four persons, whether married or single, will be seriously affected by depression at some point in their lives?3
Fortunately, a person can take steps to reduce loneliness.
Professionals suggest that one listen to music, call or visit a friend, go for a walk, read an amusing book, write a letter or find a new hobby as short-term solutions. Longer-term solutions could include getting a pet or volunteering in some sort of community services. Any of these recommendations can be helpful, but something else is available to each one of us that is far more effective than any medical or psychological prescription or advice. Human beings were created to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe, and the deepest loneliness originates when that relationship is broken. The prophet Isaiah described the source of the broken relationship: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2).
Divine solution to loneliness
The Christmas season reminds us that there is a divine and permanent Solution to our loneliness. Not only is there a Friend and Brother who understands how we feel, He also bridges the chasm of separation and then remains at our side as a permanent companion.
Jesus—the Restorer—understands loneliness and separation because He experienced it himself. In Gethsemane, He pleaded with His three closest disciples to stay awake and pray with Him, but His best friends failed Him. He experienced what no-one else has ever known: complete, total isolation from His Father.
Our sins rested upon Him. Hear His cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
So we can remind ourselves, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NLT). When we feel lonely, we can hear Jesus say, “I know how you feel—I understand.” Listen as He whispers in our ear: I am able to help you, because I suffered the way you are suffering right now (see Hebrews 2:18).
Not only does Jesus understand, but by coming to this earth, He enabled the broken relationship that causes our deepest loneliness to be restored. The prophet Isaiah foretold the means of restoration. Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
At Christmas we remember Jesus' birth that began His 33 years as a human among humans. But we can also celebrate His promises to end our loneliness with His continuing interest and presence. He Himself promised us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Through Isaiah, He assured us, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Taylor Caldwell in “My Christmas Miracle” tells about a time in her life when she was an unemployed single mother, feeling lonely and abandoned while trying to provide Christmas for her young daughter.
When she got on the train while job hunting, she found a beautiful umbrella with a woman's name engraved on the handle. As soon as she got home, Taylor looked up the owner's name in the phone book, called, and returned the umbrella. The owner, delighted because the umbrella had been a cherished gift from her parents, wanted to give Taylor a reward, but she refused. Months went by and Taylor found only temporary jobs here and there. She was able to save, with great sacrifice, $8.00 for her daughter Peggy's Christmas gift.
As December wore on, Taylor's life reached its lowest point. Unless a miracle happened, come January, she would find herself and her daughter without a roof over their head, without even food. Their Christmas dinner would consist of three cans of food, all the remaining food in the pantry. Taylor had been praying for weeks, only to bounce against total darkness and utter silence. She felt abandoned by God and her fellow humans. When she got home on Christmas Eve, the mailbox contained only bills and two white envelopes, no doubt more bills.
Then the doorbell rang, and Peggy ran to answer it. Hearing her daughter talking excitedly and laughing, Taylor followed Peggy to the door. A man stood there with his arms full of parcels. “Oh,” said Taylor, “there must be a mistake. I'm not expecting anything But her name and address were clearly printed on every package. As Peggy and Taylor opened the gifts, they found Christmas decorations, food and presents all from the umbrella's owner, who had moved to another state."
Taylor then opened the two white envelopes. The first one contained a holiday bonus from an employer for whom she had worked as a temp earlier in the year. The cheque was the amount due for the rent. The second brought an offer of permanent employment starting in January.
Listening to the pealing of the church bells and the music of the Christmas carols in the distance, Taylor realised, “I am not alone. I never was.” 4 And that, of course, is the Christmas message: Immanuel—“God with us”—is by our side now and forever.