I was fascinated yesterday to read that the UK has appointed a “minister for loneliness” to tackle the ever-growing problem of loneliness and isolation in the country.
My first thought was that this was a marvelous idea, and a very compassionate one. Loneliness is a plague that touches all sorts of people from all walks of life, and it damages the heart (and even the health!) over time.
My second thought was that this is exactly the sort of problem that Christians are called to address.
Because life can be lonely for so many people, and not always for the people you’d expect. Yes, many of us know lonely elderly, whose circumstances and lack of mobility sometimes reduce their interactions and social circles. But you know who else is lonely?
Here’s a partial list:
- College students, many of whom take several years to find the right fit or friend group, or to settle in at their new school.
- Single mothers and fathers, especially those who may be far from family to lend a helping hand, and who can be overwhelmed daily by their responsibilities
- The newly and not-so-newly bereaved
- Those who feel isolated due to language and/or cultural constraints
- The people who just moved in next door or just started work in your office
- The person who just got dumped by a girlfriend or boyfriend
- Those with unforgiving work schedules or strangely scheduled shifts
The list goes on and on. And the kicker is that loneliness cannot be fixed with a check or a donation of canned goods or two hours spent painting a porch. It is fixed with presence, and attention, and loving concern over time. It is fixed when someone drops by to share coffee and talk, or when they send a card in the mail, or take ten minutes to make a phone call. It is fixed with the consistent devotion of resources like energy and focus. It is fixed by relationship.
There are lonely people around you. I can almost guarantee it. Some of them seem polished and professional and absolutely fine, thank you very much. Some of them are cranky grumps whose bad attitude is a mask for miserable isolation. Some of them seem shy or uncertain. Some of them have their loneliness written right there on their faces. But they are most certainly in your life, probably in places where you don’t expect them.
It’s entirely possible God put you there to ease that loneliness just a bit.
So keep your eyes open. And above all – if you’re not sure where to start or who might be lonely around you – simply be kind and give people your attention, even when they don’t seem to need it or want it. Don’t be the sort of person who can’t wait for a conversation to be finished, who breezes by the person screwing up the courage to ask a question, who can’t scribble in a card or send a text. Keep an eye out for the elderly in your community when the temperatures drop. Ask that sullen college student how her classes are going. Introduce yourself to the immigrant who recently moved into your neighborhood or leave a little welcome package that serves as an open door and an invitation to community. Engage in the small, seemingly insignificant actions that say the three things any lonely person needs to hear:
I notice you. I care about you. And I am here for you.
It really can make such a difference.