Overcoming Loneliness

I


'm all alone in the universe. No one really knows me. No one really cares. God—if there is one—is far away. He got tired of the world and moved away. I looked in the mirror today and saw the real me—one hideous scar, an open sore. I'm going to sleep.

These were the words of a brilliant student at a large, well-known university. He was one of the most promising students there. He was exceptionally gifted, handsome, athletic, and popular, and he was headed for an outstanding career in medicine.

Though far from being alone and in spite of all this he was still a very lonely young man. After writing the above note, he injected poison into his veins and died.

Loneliness, like depression, is one of the plagues of contemporary society. Few escape it altogether. In its chronic form it is a killer.

Time magazine reported a number of years ago1 that health studies have long shown that unmarried or widowed people are much more susceptible to sickness than married people. For instance, the death rate from heart disease is five times as high among widows between 25 and 34 as it is among married women of the same age. And the divorced of all ages are twice as susceptible to strokes as are the married.

Loneliness can break your heart.

James J. Lynch, formerly a specialist in psychosomatic medicine at the University of Maryland Medical School and now the Director of the Life Care Foundation, and author of The Broken Heart: The Medical Consequences of Loneliness, claims that suicide, cancer, tuberculosis, accidents, mental disorders, and especially heart disease are "all significantly influenced by human companionship."2

In other words, "loneliness and isolation can literally break your heart."

Loneliness is a feeling of not being able to reach another person and his not being able to reach you. It is a feeling of being isolated even though you may be surrounded by people.

Henri Nouwen expressed it this way: the lonely person "cannot make contact; his hand closes on empty air."

Psychologist Norman Wright in An Answer to Loneliness quotes one lonely woman who said, "I hurt deep down in the pit of my stomach, my arms and my shoulders ache to be held tight...to be told that I am really loved for what I am."

"Deep within each of us is the hunger for contact, acceptance, belonging, intimate exchange, responsiveness, support, love, and the touch of tenderness," says Wright. "We experience loneliness because these hungers are not always fed."

For example, a child feels lonely when his parents are too busy for him. But to whom can he turn? The adolescent feels lonely when he feels misunderstood by his parents. A mother of small children feels lonely when she is too busy to have her own needs for companionship met.

When married couples cannot communicate effectively especially with their feelings, loneliness can cut deeply.

When one loses a loved one through death or divorce or is isolated through illness, he or she feels incredibly lonely.

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