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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas: The Cure for Loneliness

Much of the world, it seems, is quite lonely. In fact, some have recently declared that loneliness has reached “epidemic levels” in the United States. A national study of more than 20,000 Americans by health insurer Cigna released in May of this year concluded that, based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale (a “20-item questionnaire developed to assess subjective feelings of loneliness, as well as social isolation”), “most American adults are considered lonely.”

Some of the “alarming” results of the survey, as Cigna reveals:
  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent). 
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent). 
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent). 
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely. 
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis. 
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations. 
You almost certainly encountered reports on this research. After Cigna released its study, media across the U.S. reported that “most Americans are considered lonely.” Before Cigna’s study was released, health experts were warning of a “loneliness epidemic.” In October of 2017, The Washington Post reported that former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, wants us to treat loneliness as a “public health crisis.” In Psychology Today, Dr. Murthy declares loneliness as “the most common pathology.”

The British are so concerned with loneliness that in January of this year, UK Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a “minister for loneliness.” Mark Robinson, the head of Age UK—the largest British charity focused on the elderly—warned that loneliness can be fatal. “It’s proven to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, but it can be overcome and needn’t be a factor in older people’s lives,” he said.

“The loneliness is killing us,” wrote Karol Markowicz in the New York Post this week. Ms. Markowicz points to the rising suicide rate in the U.S., which, along with drug overdoses, has led to another drop in U.S. life expectancy. As Web MD reports,

Life expectancy in the United States has now declined for three years in a row, fueled largely by a record number of drug overdose deaths and rising suicide rates, new government statistics show.

“It’s really the first time we’ve seen this multi-year drop” in decades, said Renee Gindi, chief of the Analytic Studies Branch of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I typically put little stock in research on something as difficult to measure as loneliness. However, as we examine the world around us, the anecdotal evidence for the problem of loneliness abounds. More importantly, Scripture explicitly reveals that from the very beginning, our Creator Himself was concerned with this matter. As John Milton put it, “loneliness is the first thing God’s eye named ‘not good.’”

After creating Adam, God declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Eve was then created and humanity’s first couple were instructed to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” As Matthew Henry's commentary on Genesis chapter two notes
[M]an is a sociable creature. It is a pleasure to him to exchange knowledge and affection with those of his own kind, to inform and to be informed, to love and to be beloved. What God here says of the first man Solomon says of all men (Eccl. 4:9 , etc.), that two are better than one, and woe to him that is alone… 
In our best state in this world we have need of one another’s help; for we are members one of another, and the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee, (1 Co. 12:21). We must therefore be glad to receive help from others, and give help to others, as there is occasion.
Not only did Adam and Eve have relationship with each other, they were also in perfect communion with God. At this time, they may have been the least lonely people in the history of the world. Their sin ended all of that. After they disobeyed God and subsequently fled from Him, though they still had one another, for the first time in their lives they found themselves alone and afraid. Nevertheless, in spite of their disobedience, God still sought them.

So it is today. It should come as no surprise that as our culture grows further from God, loneliness and suicide would increase. I would wager that the loneliest among us are those who are the most devoted to themselves. Such people are often steeped in the “hook-up culture” and fill the crowded clubs and bars on Friday and Saturday evenings. Often surrounded by hordes, yet desperately lonely, many are clueless or in denial about what will really fill the void in their lives.

As little stock as I put in research on matters such as loneliness, I put even less stock in the secular solutions for such things. There’s only one way to fill the “God-shaped hole” in each of us. As Pascal put it
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.
Christianity teaches that the only way to fill this “infinite abyss” is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. In order to become what we were meant to be, in order to have true meaning and purpose in this world, we must get off the lonely throne of our lives and let Jesus have His proper place.

Along with an eternal relationship with the One who made us, where we never have to feel alone, God’s greatest gift—Jesus Christ—meets all of our most desperate needs. Of course, Christmas is the time that we celebrate this gift and all that it means. Ultimately the world doesn’t have a loneliness problem, a poverty problem, a crime problem, a sexual problem, a terrorism problem, or even (and of course) a climate problem. The world has a sin problem, and Christmas provides us with the answer.

There’s no escaping this all important eternal truth: we are all in dire need of a Savior. Your life can be filled with people, treasures, and every kind of pleasure, but if you ignore Jesus and His message, you will regret it for all of eternity and be lonelier than you’ve ever been. Your life can be riddled with loneliness, poverty, sickness, and strife, yet if you repent and believe in Christ, the magnificent riches of eternal life await you. And whether rich or poor, sick or well, imprisoned or free, lonely or loved, we all need the gift that was given on that first Christmas day. Merry Christmas!

(See this column at American Thinker.)

Copyright 2018, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor is the author of The Miracle and Magnificence of America

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