Cathy Madavan shares shares helpful insights about those times when we can all feel isolated
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I am a woman who reads about 350 reviews before buying a kettle and, even then, I’m never sure I’ve made the best choice. I have been known to chase waiters after eventually choosing a meal in a restaurant, because I want to change my mind…again.
It’s the ‘paralysis of analysis’ issue – there’s just so much choice, and I want to make the right decision. And folks, if I’m like that about a kettle, just imagine me researching a school for my kids, choosing a new house or deciding when to have a difficult conversation.
So, while I have made some progress in this area, you will have to decide whether the following ideas are helpful or not!
1 Loneliness is not always ‘alone-ness’
Here’s the weird thing: you can be alone sometimes and be perfectly happy or surrounded by people and feel extremely lonely.
This came home to me recently as I was chatting with a lady called Becky who sells copies of the Big Issue near where we live. She spends her life trying to catch the eye of passers-by, and most don’t respond.
When we first met, I asked for her name, which I always use now, and every time she seems genuinely surprised that I remember her. This lady has people all around her every day, but what makes her a little less lonely is when somebody notices her. We all want to be noticed by somebody, don’t we?
2 Loneliness is not age related
According to the UK’s Community Life Survey 2019–2020, 16–29-year-olds are twice as likely as over 70s to experience loneliness. That seems surprising, and yet it’s easy to stereotype loneliness as something we experience more as we get older.
In reality, you can feel lonely in your workplace or at university; you can feel really lonely as a single person but you can also be lonely in a marriage. What makes the difference is a sense of belonging, feeling valued and having meaningful relationships where you give and receive in different ways.
It’s good to give thanks for the precious friends and family members who mean a lot to us, but let’s also welcome others to the table who might really benefit from the invitation.
3 Significant seasons of loneliness
It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit lost sometimes, especially when we move areas, change jobs, have a baby or retire, for example. Also, circumstances such as bereavement, divorce, empty-nesting, illness or disability can be the cause of profound isolation.
In our churches, we do need to especially look out for others grappling with these significant issues. For many who do not have loved ones around, times like Christmas can increase those feelings of disappointment or loss.
But it is amazing how talking to somebody else who has shared your experience helps; we need to be more honest and open about how we navigate these tough seasons.
4 Fear of missing out (FOMO)
Social media can be great for connecting, but it can be a loneliness accelerator sometimes, can’t it? For example, you’re feeling a bit cut off and isolated, so you visit your favourite social media site and witness lots of lovely people you know apparently living their best life – together.
Just what you needed. Not. The trouble is, even though we know the reality might not match the photo, it’s normal to feel some FOMO. We need to fight our feelings of rejection, but it’s OK to admit we’d love some more time with friends. If possible, why not text somebody and organise a coffee or a night out?
5 God is always with us
I am often glad that the Bible is repetitive, reminding us repeatedly that God will not leave or forsake us. It might sound glib to say that God is always there, but honestly it is a firm rock to stand on when we need it most.
Friends come and go, some relationships are hard and some seasons do bring loneliness. But we have a faithful heavenly Father, and he never lets us down. We can always share our feelings with him, and he is never too busy to listen. Knowing we matter to the King of Kings has to be reassuring in every season.