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“I’ve been lonely for quite some time now. It hangs over me like a black cloud and follows me wherever I go. At times I can escape it, but it seems like it always waiting there…”
I’d heard similar confessions before from others. I’ve heard it from my own voice within, at times, too.
People get lonely. Some studies list loneliness as the most common anxiety of people today. Some estimate as many as 50 percent of the population experiences chronic loneliness.
Someone you know is lonely.
Maybe you’re lonely.
The challenge is knowing what to do when you’re in the midst of it, when it descends on you like a fog, enveloping you in its macabre embrace, holding you with a grip that won’t let you go, submerging you in its ever tightening grasp, squeezing you into a more complex, dangerous, even intimate relationship, mysteriously drawing you in deeper, surreptitiously suffocating you in its folds of despair.
Some self medicate to endure their relationship with loneliness. Alcohol and drugs are common prophylactics.
Many attempt to elude loneliness with people.
A divorce lawyer asked a client: “You haven’t been married very long. Why did you get married in the first place?”
The client answered, “I was lonely, and I hated being by myself, so I got married.”
“Then why do you want to divorce your husband?” the attorney asked.
The client again answered, “Because I am lonely and I hate being by myself all the time.”
No one is immune, regardless of profession or walk of life. A prominent pastor, whom I’ve admired, resigned from his ministry last week. Dr. Stephen Shoemaker, senior pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., resigned his pulpit in order to focus on his recovery from depression.
“The life of a senior minister is a very lonely life and the life of a senior minister in difficulty is a doubly lonely life,” Shoemaker said.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why up to 1,500 pastors leave their jobs each month, and 45 percent, according to one survey, say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from their ministry.
I’m reminded of the depressed man who went to a therapist. After listening to the complaints of loneliness, fatigue, and anxiety, the counselor suggested the client go and hear the Great Grimaldi, the encouraging entertainer who just happened to be in the city at the time. The discouraged client slowly raised his head, looked at the counselor and responded, “Doctor, I am the Great Grimaldi.”
Perhaps in your role as parent, child, life partner or leader, you have felt like the Great Grimaldi -a lways the one responsible for making others happy.
Studies have shown that loneliness most often results from several factors: life transitions, including career changes, children leaving home, and retirement; separation from familiar surroundings, and that includes family and friends; being misunderstood or unfairly criticized; and the experience of being rejected, either from a relationship or work, or both.
In the Bible there’s a story about David before he became King David. He and the people he led had lost everything, and his followers were unjustly blaming David, even threatening to kill him. The seemingly invincible David was experiencing failure, the grief of major loss, and the pain of rejection.
The Scripture says David “encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord” (I Samuel 30:6).
David then took control and got busy in his effort to reclaim what had been stolen from him and his followers.
Sometimes the best defense against loneliness is an effective offense. Loneliness can be viewed as a signal, like hunger, that some area of life needs addressing.
As much as possible, take control of what you can in your circumstance of life. Do something, anything - as long as it’s positive and has the potential to help you and others.
I read about a seven-word cure for loneliness: Get busy doing something for someone else.
Then leave it with them; they are responsible for their own choice for happiness.
It’s no guarantee, but helping someone else is one of the surest ways to dissipate that dark cloud of despair. In doing so, you might just open the curtains, allowing the sunshine of hope to shine in the darkened rooms of your lonely life.
David B. Whitlock of Lebanon is a Baptist minister and author of “Life Matters.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.