“Loneliness kills. Life without friends and family is not just dreary but difficult, especially as we get older.”
So begins a recent article about the increasing crisis of loneliness and the elderly. The evidence is overwhelming. Social relationships and regular social contact with others, or the lack thereof, is a life and death issue.
People need people. The Maker of this universe designed us this way. In the very beginning the Bible says, “And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18, NKJV). God’s message: It is not good, (i.e., it is bad) for humans to be alone.
In 2010 a scientific review of 148 separate studies on the effects of loneliness was published. The results were alarming. The study concluded:
* Lack of strong social relationships decrease a person’s chance of staying alive by 50%!!
* The reverse is also true – the presence of strong social relationships increase a person’s chance of staying alive by 50 percent, compared to those lacking established social relationships. This is about the same increase in living longer that comes from quitting smoking.
At the time these statistics were published the problem was predicted to continue to get worse over time. It has now been 7 years since this study, and our society continues to become more socially isolated.
Marriage Is Better For Us
Living alone increases isolation, which can increase loneliness. This is exactly what is happening in the United States. ALMOST HALF of U.S. ADULTS ARE NOW SINGLE (see graph below).
Major reasons for this would include the increase in divorce in recent decades, longer life-spans, and a culture that de-emphasizes marriage.
An Important Caveat:
Aloneness Does Not Guarantee Loneliness
We cannot assume everyone who lives alone is lonely. Some individuals have outgoing personalities that ensure strong social relationships. More practically, these individuals have the health and the means to interact socially and maintain social connections.
Others are not so fortunate. Introverted individuals who live alone tend to have a more difficult time forming close social relationships. People who live alone with physical and emotional ailments are also often limited in their ability to engage socially. Churches call this group of people, ‘Shut-Ins’.
These are the folks we need to be looking out for in our extended families, neighborhoods and churches.
A Typical Scenario
My own mother has experienced this. She and my father were very active in their church for a number of years and had many friends there. They both grew older and developed health problems. Their attendance at worship services became less and less. My father died and my mother was left alone. Her health eventually required her to enter the dreaded ‘SHUT-IN’ church membership category. This is the kiss of social relationship death for most elderly Christians. Sure enough, the church did a good job of keeping in contact with her at first. Gradually though, as the majority of her friends entered shut-in status themselves and began to die, there was almost no one left to remember her. New families moved into the congregation that had never known her. Today she has little contact with her church, and I know she deals with loneliness at times.
Note: I do NOT say this as a criticism of her church family. This is a tendency of all human nature: ‘Out of sight, out of mind”. There are examples of this tendency even in the Bible .
My intention in using my mother’s example is to remind us that we must all make an effort to not forget those who have become old and out of our sight. I am guilty of doing this myself with the elderly members of my own church congregation. Too often, I forget about these 'shut-in' members on a regular basis.
Lord, forgive me of this neglect.
What Must We Do?
1. Develop a Greater Awareness on Our Part
We need to make and keep ourselves aware of this gradual process of being forgotten and becoming irrelevant. We must admit that it is a negative tendency of human nature to forget those who are out of our awareness. We use this awareness to continuously guard against forgetting the lonely.
2. Turn Your Awareness to Action
Developing an awareness is a necessary start - but it is not a useful finish. Someone said, “One kind deed is more beautiful than a thousand good intentions.”
Begin by identifying those family members in your extended family who would benefit from contact from you. Then, expand out to elderly neighbors and isolated church members.
Yes, all of us have busy schedules but remember: one day each of us may find ourselves elderly, in poor health, and isolated from others. The Golden Rule states: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). Treat others as you want them to treat you.
Four Simple Action Steps We All Can Take To Help People Feel Connected
*Send a card or note once a week with a short ‘thinking of you’ handwritten message.
*Find out their birthday and ALWAYS do something special on this date. Stop by for 15-30 minutes with a small birthday cake. If you live out of town have flowers delivered. Even to men! Flowers will remind them of the beauty of life and God’s nature they now are no longer able to experience like they once did.
*Call them once a week to check on them. Tell them, “I am just calling to check on you and see how you are doing.” It will mean so much to be reminded that there are still people who care about them.
*Make a special effort during the holiday season to connect with those that are isolated.
Jesus said the second greatest commandment of all the commandments is this, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The word neighbor is not limited to the people who live next door to you. The word refers to any person who comes into your life at any given time. It means your fellow man and woman, in a broad, general sense. We should always be seeking the best interests (agape) of everyone we encounter. For sure, this includes the lonely.
 Genesis 1:8; Judges 2:10; etc.
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