When I was in my teens, I heard stories about the older generations who find themselves at home, alone, for the majority, if not all of the week, without ever seeing or speaking to anyone else. More recently, I read a statistic which stated that more teens and young adults have identified as ‘lonely’ than the older generations. Then, 5 years ago, I became part of another loneliness statistic – the chronically ill. As it is for many people, I wasn’t aware about this missing group of people for exactly that reason. Chronically ill people are mising from society. We are in too much pain or too tired or too symptomatic to be able to mix with society for too long, if at all, each week, and this makes for a lonely existence.
I am very thankful that when I became ill, my closest friends stayed with me and checked in on me and continue to do so, but when I am having a particularly bad week due to higher pain or fatigue levels than usual, I have been known to not leave my bed or house for days at a time. I am blessed to have my family who live with and help me but without them, my days would be very quiet and empty and even more lonely than they are otherwise and this is the case for many chronically ill people.
This extract from Premier Christianity reveals the seriousness of loneliness:
Social psychologist John Cacioppo, at the University of Chicago is a world leader in the biomedical effects of loneliness. In January this year he presented some of his latest research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology meeting in San Diego. His findings confirmed a growing body of science showing that loneliness is more damaging than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or being obese, or not taking exercise.
Did you know loneliness could kill people? It isn’t just a feeling we have when we spend more time alone than we would like – it affects us physically too which, when you are lonely predominantly due to a chronic illness, means you can end up in a catch 22 circle of pain.
We are made to be together, spending time with friends and family and being part of a bigger unit. As Christians, the Church should be a part of that, but very rarely is that the case. 1 in 5 people identify as being disabled yet a much smaller than that number of church congregations have a disability. Why is this? Well, I think there are many reasons but one of the major ones is that more churches are focusing on the number of people in their churches and not on how they look after those people. Sometimes, people cannot attend a church service for weeks on end and feel sad and frustrated that they have to do so but when they finally get back to church to find no one has missed them, or if they never show up again and don’t receive a phone call, letter or check in by a member of the pastoral team, the loneliness they felt from being out of church for so long is exasperated and they may feel inclined to leave as they don’t feel wanted or cared about. This in turn causes them to stop going to church, decreasing their social activities and increasing the amount of time they spend alone annd ultimately, their loneliness too.
In the first three centuries, the early Church was one known for its love and compassion. Justin Martyr described Christian love as, ‘We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.’
Can we honestly say today that we are more interested in the people in the centre and on the outskirts of the church, and even the wider community, more than increasing the number of people who come into the church? Are we genuinely more passionate about spending our money to help those who need it than bringing in and saving as much as we can for our own benefit? Would we be willing to go out of our way, miss out on catching up with friends, skip a party or record our favourite TV show to visit or call someone who has been unwell or has not been at church for a while and help them in someway? Having a visitor could be enough, or perhaps they need a few bits of shopping? A small thing can go a long way and as we know, anything that reduces or stops loneliness completely is a potential life saver!