Loneliness is Timeless and Ageless

Many of the needs of people around town—in your community—are reflected in the church family. While men and women may express their needs differently, the needs are often the same. Likewise, the needs of children are reflections of the needs of their parents.

So while planning to minister to the needs of your physical neighbors and coworkers, remember the needs of your church family. The helps in this column can be spread far and wide. Such is the case with loneliness.

A Hunger for Relationships
Loneliness is a hunger for human relationships, understanding, and acceptance. Transient loneliness is experienced by everyone. It is like becoming hungry for lunch five hours after breakfast—you need a sandwich and an apple to satisfy the hunger.

Transient loneliness is a signal that we need to spend time with friends and family.

Persistent and chronic loneliness is like starvation when food is not available. When we are deprived of community and intimacy with family or friends, we can suffer emotional pain and depression.

In A Cry Unheard, Dr. James J. Lynch talks about underachieving children. These children feel inferior to their achieving peers and find themselves unable to communicate with them. The result is withdrawal and loneliness that often carries into adulthood.

William Pollack did research about boys. His book, Boys, points out that society’s “boy code” pushes boys toward independence, toughness, and separation from parents much sooner than they are prepared for such independence. He found that many boys are lonely because they are deprived of intimacy with their parents.

Girls struggle for acceptance, but they are often rejected by peers because of differences in values, clothes, and appearance. Loneliness plagues them.

Find the Lonely People
Some members or regular guests in your Sabbath School may be lonely. The following signs can help you identify them:

  • They don’t mingle with peers.
  • They’re not included in peer social events.
  • They sit alone.
  • They participate very little.
  • They have a sad expression and air of sadness about them.

Getting to know a child’s parents can help you to determine a child’s degree of loneliness. Perhaps both parents work, leaving the child in a child-care setting and very little time with the parents.

Perhaps there is an age gap with peers—whether children or adults. Perhaps abilities—educational, social, physical—puts the person behind or ahead of his peers at school, home, work, or church, or on the job.

Make the Call and a Plan
Once you have determined that a person is lonely, there are some steps you can take to meet some of that person’s needs:

  • Call him/her by name several times each Sabbath or when you see the person around town. Acknowledge him or her rather than give a clinical “Hello.”
  • Compliment the person on personal appearance, personality traits, work ethic, yard, hair, etc.
  • Converse with the person at church functions or community functions by phone, and when you see him or her in the mall, at the dry cleaners, etc.
  • When the person is absent, let him or her know it was a loss to you: “You’re so consistent—like a solid rock/jewel.” “I missed your sunshine smile.” “I missed your bright, attentive gaze.” “I kept looking toward your empty seat, for your derby, for your blue car, listening to hear the click of the taps on your shoes, etc.”
  • Hand deliver class papers, church bulletin, meeting minutes, etc., when the person is absent. Take the newspaper from the yard to their door.
  • Include the person in social events at your home, preferably with a small number of peers.
  • Recognize birthdays in Sabbath School with more than the traditional Happy Birthday song. Tell the class why that person is special to you. (Do the same for other participants.)
  • In confidence, invite a more outgoing person to sit next to the lonely one.
  • Include the person in the program and program planning.

No Age Limits
According to research done by Anne Peplau and William Perlman, adolescents experience loneliness more than any age group. Some of the suggestions given for lonely children can be adapted for teens. It is especially important to engage adolescents in conversation.

An example: At a high school open house I noticed an 18-year-old standing alone. He appeared dejected. I introduced myself and asked what his interests were. I confessed my ignorance of the subject and told him I was eager to learn from him. For 20 minutes he described the technical details of his hobby. When we ended our conversation he said, “Thank you for talking with me. I have never talked to an adult about my interests. I enjoyed it.” Getting into the adolescent’s world and allowing them to teach us can break isolation and loneliness. This method also is timeless and ageless.

Larry Yeagley
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists