The world will never forget the Covid-19 pandemic. Its effects will be felt for generations to come and may change the world forever. However, another lesser-known epidemic faces American society: the epidemic of loneliness. While no one can ignore the restrictions and repercussions of Covid-19, few people are acknowledging the toll that loneliness is taking on the country. And there is a serious toll.
As the world readjusts and normalizes in the wake of Covid-19, the loneliness epidemic must be addressed, or society will continue to suffer grave consequences. This will be a powerful moment for the church and Christians to rally around their neighbors and fill the void of community in society.
Acknowledging the Loneliness Epidemic
The first step in this process is recognizing that loneliness is an epidemic in America today and that it carries serious side effects. Here are some statistics on the problem.
First, according to the HRSA, “loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Loneliness is not just feeling down or dissatisfied with your social life. It is a serious condition that will affect your long-term health. People who feel lonely are 32% more likely to die earlier than those who don’t feel lonely.
Loneliness severely affects the elderly. The size of families continues to shrink which leaves more and more people living alone. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over a quarter of the U.S. population — and 28 percent of older adults — now live by themselves.” That is a huge shift from the past generations and only continues to exacerbate the loneliness epidemic.
And while it’s disturbing to hear how lonely the older generations are becoming, it’s even more startling to hear that young people are not immune from this epidemic. In fact, “Young adults ages eighteen to twenty-two are the loneliest generation of all, the survey found.” This is the profoundly disturbing truth.
If it were only the elderly suffering, then it would be possible to write it off as an unfortunate consequence of an individualistically driven society. But the fact that this epidemic is affecting the youngest, most socially oriented adults in America is a serious reality. It means that America could feel the lasting effects of loneliness for generations to come.
Why are people so lonely?
There are lots of reasons why people are lonely. And the more this epidemic progresses and is evaluated, the more sources of loneliness will be discovered. For now, there are a few theories as to why loneliness continues to spread throughout American society.
First, loneliness is contagious. A study conducted in Massachusetts in 2009 found that people who are in a relationship with someone who feels lonely are 52% more likely to be lonely, themselves.
The reason for this is that lonely people often withdraw and pull away from relationships before they even physically isolate themselves. This in turn can lead their friends and family to feel distant from them in a way that contributes to loneliness in their friends or family.
It’s sort of like if two people are holding a rope so it is tight. If one person chooses to cut the rope, both people will be affected. That’s sort of how loneliness spreads. One person may choose to cut the rope, but both people will feel the consequences of someone pulling away from a relationship.
The second reason people feel more alone is that they are trying to substitute real relationships with online relationships. This seems to work at first. You have unlimited ways to connect with people from around the world. It would appear the internet is the ultimate way to destroy loneliness, but this isn’t the case.
Online relationships tend to be shallow and dissatisfying, not truly scratching the social itch. It gets worse. Technology is inhibiting our attention span and distracting us from real-life relationships in your life.
It might feel validating to have people like your posts or encouraging to have someone to message at any time, but these mediums of communication don’t offer the same in-person, relational support as real-life relationships. So even though the internet gives the illusion of connection, it draws you further and further away from other people.
The Church and Loneliness
There was no technology at the creation of the world. So, Adam and Eve didn’t have to worry about the internet getting in the way of their relationship.
When God created mankind, he said, “it is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) From the beginning, mankind was created for relationship. Humanity has always been modeled after the trinitarian dance, which consists of love, relationship, and community between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The need for togetherness is woven into the nature of human beings.
This is as true today as it was in the garden of Eden. After Jesus’ death, the church was established as a community of people to proclaim the gospel to the nations and support one another. The Scriptures teach that community is fundamental to the Christian life, and the church is the primary way this community is meant to be fulfilled.
In a world of loneliness, the church should be a beacon on a hill for the rest of society. It is imperfect. It is messy. But it is community. Here are some ways the church counteracts the loneliness epidemic.
At the heart of most Christian communities are small groups. These are small gatherings for believers from all walks of life. You don’t have to be of a certain age, race, or socio-economic standing to be in a small group. This creates a unique opportunity for community in the church.
These gatherings are designed to be familial. Communities often will share a meal during this time, talk about their weeks, and discuss the teaching in their community. Moments like this are pivotal in confronting the epidemic of loneliness because they are designed to be outlets for community. They create space for you to casually share and build relationships with other believers in your community.
Churches often will offer some sort of mentorship program. And even if your church doesn’t have a formal program, every church will have people further down the road than you who are willing to talk.
These relationships are powerful to counteract loneliness. In the same way that digital socializing can inhibit relationships, one-on-one meetings can deepen your sense of belonging in ways other friendships can’t. Sometimes it’s not about the number of people you are connected to, but instead about the nature of those relationships
Finally, most churches will offer a variety of programs. These programs will usually include groups for men, women, young adults, youth, children, and the elderly. They often will have groups for young families, young moms, older singles, and other specific communities.
Larger churches will often offer specific groups geared toward interests like hiking, sports, and other hobbies. These communities are great ways to meet people who are interested in the same things as you.
Loneliness is a genuine problem in the world today. And it is only getting worse. Technology and the online world aren’t helping people feel more connected. They seem to be doing the exact opposite. If you want to start feeling connected and fight the loneliness epidemic in your life, then get involved in your local church. This is one of the best ways to break the chains of loneliness and find meaningful community in your life.
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