By Dr. Hal Brady
A thoughtful physician who takes time to deal with his patients as whole persons says that he has discovered that “99 out of 100 individuals are lonely. And the one who says he/she isn’t probably is.” Loneliness is indeed a universal problem and yet it comes to each of us on an individual basis.
No question, loneliness has been enhanced by the COVID-19 pandemic. While appropriate during the pandemic, being asked to push away from each other, social distance, isolate, and quarantine from one another has put enormous stress on the very social connection we depend on for life and well-being. The result has been increasing loneliness.
Truth is, Jesus himself was no stranger to loneliness, and in one of his parables he specifically tells us how to deal with it. In the parable, we find a man possessed by an unclean spirit. With strong resolution, this man sweeps his mind clear only to suffer later on the invasion of “seven other spirits” more annoying than the first.
Now, what this parable teaches us about loneliness is that we can’t just sweep our minds clear of loneliness unless we fill the vacuum with other things.
Stating it another way, to successfully cope, we must replace our loneliness with something else – something better.
First, we can replace our loneliness with the recognition that being alone may not be lonely! At the beginning we need to be aware that there is a difference between alone and being lonely. Numbers of people find great peace, meaning, and inspiration in moments of aloneness.
Henry David Thoreau observed, “A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.” Solitude can be a helpful experience.
Second, we can replace our loneliness with a disciplined mind! To be sure, we cannot always change our outward situation, but we can do something about our response to that situation. Some of our loneliness is related to circumstances beyond our control. However, we can do something about the life we live in our minds. God does not intend for us to be victims of self-pity, inner emptiness, or boredom.
Years ago, there was a striking illustration of the power of the disciplined mind to overcome loneliness. It concerned Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa. In one of his first interviews after being released from 27 years in prison he said he “never felt despair.” Then Mandela went on to explain. He said that while he was in prison he continually read novels and biographies, and in later years he was allowed to see films – educational films. Such is the power of a disciplined mind in battling down loneliness.
Third, we can replace our loneliness with a great purpose! Do you know many lonely people who have a great purpose? I don’t! However, I know several lonely people who don’t have a great purpose.
When you asked, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” The answer is always, “Something useful.” And it always begins with a great purpose.
Fourth, we can replace our loneliness with a willing involvement! The Dalai Lama states, “That when one is thinking about others with kindness and compassion, one is never lonely. Openheartedness – warm-heartedness – is the antidote to loneliness.”
Fifth, we can replace our loneliness with an internal support system!
What is loneliness anyway? Basically, loneliness is nothing other than our homesickness for the Divine! There is a pain in all of us to return home. God has placed that longing for Himself in each of us. Augustine expressed it this way, “Thou dost keep us restless O God, until our hearts rest in Thee.
What I’m saying is that our internal support system will enable us to have a sense of the presence of the Divine Companion. As Jesus put it, “You will leave me alone, yet I am not alone for the Father is with me” (John 16:32).
Oh yes, we can replace our loneliness and successfully cope with it.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).