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By Rob Schwarzwalder, a Senior Contributor, The Stream , July 22, 2018
“The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me.”
Sounds like something a senior citizen living hand-to-mouth might say, right?
Maybe. But when Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway — beautiful, wealthy, and famous — said that a few years ago, it’s safe to guess she wasn’t any too content.
Sadly, her feelings reflect a growing trend in our culture. A survey of 20,000 Americans, released in May by CIGNA, found that almost “half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).”
The loneliest are not the neglected elderly in nursing homes or aged shut-ins. “Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations,” the CIGNA survey shows.
Why are We More Lonely Than Ever
Why? We are busier than ever, with more conveniences and “toys” and opportunities than any people at any time. Shopping malls, concerts, restaurants, movies, clubs of all kinds are available to the great bulk of people.
None of these things go to the heart. They occupy but don’t fulfill. Moments of enjoyment and a deep sense of well-being are different things.
Social media don’t help. While the various platforms can be good ways to stay connected, they are no substitute for being with someone, making eye contact or hearing a laugh or seeing a frown. And you can’t get a hug from a smartphone.
A recent British study of the effects of social media use found some alarming trends:
“Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.”
“Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70 percent in the past 25 years.”
“Social media use is linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.”
Then there are such things as family breakup. When moms and dads reject each other, they’re also rejecting joint parenting of their children. Kids need married parents — a mom and a dad — to gain the highest levels of emotional, physical, social, and intellectual health.
There are some cases where, due to adultery, abuse, or abandonment, legal separation or divorce are needed. But in the era of “no-fault” divorce, those cases are more the exception than the rule.
Pornography also puts barriers between the richness of marital intimacy and a debasing obsession with online immorality. Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist with three decades of helping people addicted to pornography says, “Any time (a person) spends much time with the usual pornography usage cycle, it can’t help but be a depressing, demeaning, self-loathing kind of experience.”
Shyness, fear of rejection, and actual rejection all play roles, as well. Being bullied or denied entry into a clique of friends can be devastating.
Serving Those With Lonely, Broken Hearts
This is where mature Christians in the body of Christ come in. They need to notice people who are on the downside of friendship and draw them in. That might come at a cost in time, emotional energy, or even other relationships. But serving those with broken hearts is what the Savior did, day in and day out. We are to imitate Him.
Some people who suffer from depression and the pain of loneliness might need medical help. If you have a broken leg, you get it treated by a doctor. If your brain is malfunctioning, don’t “gut it out” or think that through prayer alone you can heal a physical condition. Get checked out. Get medicine if you need it. And get Christian counseling along with the medicine.
Parents: Your kids don’t need to live their lives with thumbs and screens. Be prepared for a fit (and for some more faint-of-heart than others, gird up your loins for adult-child conflict), but putting your son or daughter on a social media “fast” might be the biggest favor you can do them. Reducing their electronic cravings will foster creativity, conversation, and that greatest social blessing of all, actual time with their family and friends.
Finally, those Christians who feel alone and isolated should consider Jesus. The Messiah was He was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” and was “as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 53:3).
“Imagine what his childhood was like,” writes Jon Bloom. “He would have been odd, sticking out morally like a sore thumb, never quite fitting in with any group, even his own family. Even his loving parents wouldn’t have fully understood him. Nor would they have been able to protect him from others’ stinging remarks and maybe cruel mocking over his unsullied strangeness.”
On the cross, the Father turned His back on the eternal Son. Pure and eternal love they shared was shattered as Jesus became sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus is near to the grieving, the lonely, the sad. You can open your heart to Him, knowing He understands. The Light of the world offers the hope for which the loneliest long, whatever one’s age or condition.
“I am with you always,” said Jesus to His disciples, “even to the end of the ages” (Matthew 28:20). That’s as true now for all who call on Him, whether an Anne Hathaway or someone living in the most obscure hut in the most remote village on earth.
Rob Schwarzwalder is a Senior Contributor at The Stream and a Senior Lecturer at Regent University. Raised in Washington State, he lived with his family in the suburban D.C. area for nearly 25 years until coming to Regent in the summer of 2016. Rob was Senior Vice-President at the Family Research Council for more than seven years, and previously served as chief-of-staff to two Members of Congress. He was also a communications and media aide to a U.S. Senator and senior speechwriter for the Hon. Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For several years, he was Director of Communications at the National Association of Manufacturers. While on Capitol Hill, he served on the staffs of members of both Senate and House Armed Services Committees and the Senate Committee with oversight of federal healthcare policy.
Rob is focused on the intersection of theology, culture and politics. His background in public policy has been informed by his service on Capitol Hill, the private sector and various Christian ministries. His op-eds have been published in numerous national publications, ranging from TIME and U.S. News and World Report to Christianity Today, The Federalist and The Public Discourse, as well as scores of newspapers and opinion journals. He has been interviewed on National Public Radio, Fox News, and other leading television and radio programs. Rob’s scholarly publications include studies of such issues as fatherlessness, pornography, federal economic policy and national security.
Rob has done graduate work at George Washington University and holds an M.A. in theology from Western Seminary (Portland, Ore.) and an undergraduate degree from Biola University. He and his wife of 35 years, Valerie, make their home in Virginia Beach and have three children.