THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF HUMAN LONELINESS


A recent survey conducted by ‘Young Minds’ - a leading mental health charity in the UK, focusing on children and young people, revealed that striking 87% of respondents felt lonely or isolated at the height of the Coronavirus lockdown[1]. Those findings could easily reflect the entire population not just those up to the age of 25. The fact of the matter is we all have experienced loneliness in our lives.

While the Coronavirus impacts on our economies, societies, and everyday lives, it can be argues that little time is devoted to the devastating impact it had and continues to have on our mental health. The firm restrictions imposed by governments across the globe, limiting our interactions, movements, and even work brought the world as we knew it to a halt. For many this has been a blessing in disguise – an emergency break has been hit on many busy lives, finally offering many a chance to catch a breath.

The period of lockdown offered us more time for life audits and soul searching, time for looking back and time for wondering – so important and yet so forgotten by many. However, we also faced an overnight adjustment to the new normal and the many challenges associated with it. More importantly, the lockdown had a hidden yet very real impact on our lives, for there has been a lot more loneliness, more grief, or even boredom. All this made worse by not being able to share our experiences with our families and friends. We found ourselves missing the littlest of things – a hug, a handshake, even a friendly smile disappeared behind a face mask. This may not seem like much but to so many people faced with loneliness the tinniest social interaction meant so much. It is normal and understandable to feel lonely, scared, worried especially at this time where there are many uncertainties lying ahead of us all.

However, an important aspect to understand is that loneliness is only a bad thing if we choose for it to be a bad thing. In fact, the gospel teaches us that we are never truly alone unless we so choose, for we know that Jesus said: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age”[2]. No matter how difficult and dark the place we find ourselves in, God is there with us. All we have to do is open our hearts and accept his presence in our lives. This may seem easier said than done, especially when we find ourselves at what we think is the rock bottom, where our mental pain and suffering surpasses our ability to function or communicate – how do we find the strength to seek God?

To begin with, we need to understand that God is not looking for any grand gestures on our part he is simply waiting for us to call upon his name – Lord pick me up, be a lamp on my path! That is because “The Lord hears the cry of the poor”[3] and “the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”[4] but God is also a gentleman he does not impose on us, but rather waits for our invitation, our open hearts.

I recently read a book called “Der Allmächtige und ich” (the almighty and I) by a French author Cyril Massarotto (sadly, not yet available in English) in which he explores a relationship between a curious atheist and God himself. The almighty accompanies the main protagonist through all the ups and downs of life. Although a work of fiction, the story holds a grain of truth, namely that God is always with us and walks along on our journey of life. However, he only does so when we allow him into our lives. Once we do this we are never truly alone and begin to see loneliness for what it really is – an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God, an opportunity to grow as Christians, and an opportunity to better understand ourselves.

Therefore, if we change our mindset associated with loneliness and begin to see it as a self-care time, a quality time with the Lord rather than a lonely, self-pitying episode in our lives we being to see the positive aspects that being alone, having time to reflect and ponder has on our lives.

In fact, I would argue that loneliness is an essential part of who we are. As Catholics we place a lot of emphasis on being a community and rightly so, we are the body of Christ. However, our collective prayer is just as important as our individual contemplation of the word of God or even our daily chat with the Lord. Pope Benedict XVI said that “God speaks in silence”[5]. It is what we hear from God in that secret silence that we then take to the community, to our church, to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We also see the importance of silence and loneliness in the life of Jesus, as he willingly withdrew from people to deepen his intimacy with the Father. From his time alone in the desert, praying at the mountain side or the lake. Jesus often withdrew from the public life “Jesus often withdrew to a lonely place and prayed”[6].

Ultimately leading to his loneliness on the cross. Jesus shows us that loneliness brings us closer to God, it makes our relationship with him more intimate and more personal, tailored to or needs. Jesus in his human nature experienced all the feelings we are experiencing - loneliness, grief, sadness, betrayal. He understands how we feel and through his divine nature he is with us and for us. All we have to do is open our hearts and minds, see our loneliness as an invitation to a more intimate relationship with him.

In conclusion, because of the ever-changing circumstances in which we find ourselves, we may experience more loneliness, more grief and sadness than ever before. However, we ought to see it as an opportunity to grow spiritually, to advance our relationship with the one who speaks in silence and remember that no matter what, God is with us - he is just waiting for our invitation and more importantly he is with us. So next time we feel lonely or down let us take the first step and call on the name of the Lord – Lord pick me up and be a lamp on my path!

[1] https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/reports/coronavirus-impact-on-young-people-with-mental-health-needs/

[2] Mt 28:20 KJV

[3] Psalm 34

[4] Psalm 34:18

[5] Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the 46th World Communications Day. Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization [Sunday, 20 May 2012].

[6] Lk 5:16 KJV

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