It was the cover that caught my attention.
For most of us, we never think of loneliness as a major health or psychological issue. After all, we’ve all had moments when we’ve felt lonely, and we probably think Lucy’s solution is all we need:
But Jennifer Latson’s cover article in the current issue of Psychology Today paints a different picture. According to Latson, the plight of loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions, and some researchers want to treat it as a disease.
A disease? Perhaps. Loneliness can contribute to a whole catalog of health problems. “Lonely people are more likely than the nonlonely to die from cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory illness, and gastrointestinal causes—essentially, everything.” She goes so far as to consider loneliness deadly.
“Loneliness poses a serious physical risk—it can be, quite literally, deadly. As a predictor of premature death, insufficient social connection is a bigger risk factor than obesity and the equivalent of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University and one of the leading figures in loneliness research.”
This is where Lucy got it wrong in the Peanuts comic strip. Loneliness isn’t simply cured by being around people. People with a few friends can be quite content, while others with a large number in their social circles can experience great loneliness. Married people may have a spouse, but they can still suffer from feeling constantly lonely.
What matters is the quality of those relationships—and this is where the church can step in.
But before I address how the body of Christ can make a difference, let me get on my soapbox about how we’re contributing to the problem.
Does your church have one of those “meet and greet” times during the worship service? I do not like those—and I am an outgoing person who likes to meet people. I have never been in a church where those “meet and greet” times did not feel superficial and forced. In the past few months, I’ve discovered I’m not alone. Dr. Thom Rainer has just released a new book, Becoming a Welcoming Church. His research found that ninety percent of church visitors don’t like “meet-and-greets” and sixty percent of church members don’t either.
Each week our churches are full of lonely people. They’re dying inside from loneliness. We can assume they come to church because they love God or want to connect to Him, but tied to that is a desire to connect to others. Yet too often we feel we were out-and-out friendly because we smiled, shook their hand, and said, “Glad you’re here”—right before we quickly moved to the next person, smiled, shook their hand, and said, “Glad you’re here.”
They also sit in our Bible study groups. Lonely. There is a desire to bond with other people, to build a connection. The purpose of group Bible study is to learn and grow in Christ together.
The Psychology Today article closed with several practical tips that will contribute to the cure for loneliness:
- Do talk to strangers
- Give a conversation seven minutes
- Schedule face time (not just social media)
- Meet your neighbors
- Reach out and literally touch someone
Psychology Today is a purely secular magazine, yet the tips that closed out this article identity things the church should already be doing—and should be doing with excellence.
What will you do this week to move beyond the superficial and get to know the person who sits down the pew from you? Who knows, maybe they’re dying to know you.
- “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well (1 Thess. 2:7-8).
- “Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
Spread the word by sharing this post with others.
- They’re Sitting Right Next to You
- When Social Media Becomes Anti-Social
- Take a Break From Social Media and Talk Face-to-Face