By B.J. Funk
The Beatles released a song in 1966 that spoke of loneliness: Ah, look at all the lonely people/ Where do they all come from?/ All the lonely people/ Where do they all belong?
Are you plagued with periods of loneliness? Do you feel sometimes that you cannot go on another day because life has lost its meaning? Has your best friend died, your companion walked away, and you are left with unbearable darkness? You are not by yourself.
It’s not just an elderly father or mother who is lonely. Not just the widow or widower. The rich and the famous are lonely. The popular and unpopular. Seventies rock star Janis Joplin had the world at her feet, but just before she took her own life with an overdose of heroin in a Los Angeles apartment, she said to her friend, “After I come off the stage, all I do is sit around and watch television. I am so very lonely.”
The movie, Judy, brilliantly played by Rene Zellweger, vividly shows the unhappy life of Judy Garland who died at age 47 from an accidental barbiturate overdose. The tabloids made much of her suicide attempts, addiction to uppers and downers, alcoholism, bankruptcy, a string of heartbreaking marriages, and mental health issues. She was so popular but so lonely. She once tearfully asked this question. “If I am a legend, then why am I so lonely?”
Henry David Thoreau reminds us that being in a crowd does not change our feelings of loneliness. He wrote, “A city is a place where hundreds of people are lonely together.”
Kay Arthur gives us of a beautiful antidote to loneliness. “Snuggle in God’s arms. When you are hurting, when you feel lonely, left out. Let him cradle you, comfort you, and reassure you of his all-sufficient love.”
Human beings are made for relationships. The movie, Castaway, with Tom Hanks vividly points to our need for companionship. Hanks, stranded on an uninhabited island, found a volleyball in a Fed Ex package, and he made this volleyball his friend. He named him Wilson from the brand name, and Wilson served as Hanks’ only friend for over four years until he was rescued. No movie shows the necessity of having just one good friend more than Castaway. It is doubtful if Hanks’ character would have made it without Wilson. Being made for relationships, when there are none we suffer. We hurt. We feel left out, and loneliness covers us like a thick, dark blanket.
Playwright Thomas Wolfe said, “Don’t think of loneliness as some curious abstraction or rare phenomenon. Loneliness is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.” A website on loneliness tells of the Epidemic of Loneliness. The writer goes on to submit that the crisis of loneliness poses as grave a threat to public health as obesity or substance abuse. It cuts across generations and reaches around the world.
In every Sunday morning service there are some very lonely people. It is the responsibility of the church to try to give answers in a society filled with the disease of loneliness. The answer lies squarely in a dynamic, loving, and life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We don’t merely need one more outfit, or to spend a lot of money, or go to party after party to fill our lonely needs. Those answers will not satisfy permanently. Loneliness can teach us how to walk by faith and not by sight. Allow loneliness to strengthen your faith in Christ. Ask the Lord to teach you during your lonely times and worship him even if you don’t feel like it.
Elisabeth Elliot gives solid advice when she wrote, “Loneliness is a wilderness, but if we can receive it as a gift, accepting it from the kind hand of God and offering it back to him with thanksgiving. It may become a pathway to holiness, to glory and to God himself.”
How can the church help all the lonely people? As God’s ambassadors, we offer them our arms to snuggle in. We cradle them, comfort them and remind them of God’s all sufficient love.
B.J. Funk is Good News’ long-time devotional columnist and author of It’s A Good Day for Grace, available on Amazon.