How to Deal with Loneliness and Develop Meaningful Friendships

(Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash)

Bill Clinton says it's his favorite song. It's a Beatle's classic still played 50 years after its debut. It strikes a chord with multitudes because we so identify with its theme.

"Ah, look at all the lonely people / Ah, look at all the lonely people."

The spotlight shines on an aging woman then transitions to an unappreciated pastor.

"All the lonely people / Where do they all come from? / All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?"

She dies. "Nobody came." He officiates, then meanders away.

"All the lonely people / Where do they all come from? / All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?"

How could you not guess the memorable "Eleanor Rigby"?

A century before, Henry David Thoreau captured the same issue of loneliness. He stated, "The mass of humanity lead lives of quiet desperation."

From a biblically informed perspective, we know there are three basic needs of humankind:

  1. Transcendence: reaching beyond physical to spiritual.
  2. Significance: having purpose in life.
  3. Relationship: having human connectivity/friendship.

God designed us for meaningful human interaction. He stated, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18a).

Romans 14:7 tells us, "For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself."

In civilized societies, the ultimate punishment for serious repeat offenders is long-term solitary confinement. Recently released Turkish prisoner Pastor Andrew Brunson said that weeks in this condition brought him to a place of despair and near suicide.

The Loneliness Pandemic

This year the United Kingdom made political history by instituting a new government position, "The Minister for Loneliness." Facing a serious national health problem stemming from increasing social isolation, the initiative was launched because of alarming numbers of people experiencing dementia, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and suicide. Social scientists postulated that the long-term health effects of loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day!

Cigna health insurance company conducted a nationwide study revealing nearly half of the respondents said they feel alone or increasingly left out. Further, 40 percent stated they "lack companionship" and "their relationships aren't meaningful."

Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published in the Harvard Business Review his same concern. "During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness."

We must face the brutal reality of a serious crisis, a growing epidemic of loneliness in our society today. Ironically, research shows it's most prevalent among younger people who feel they're the most "connected" yet in reality lack meaningful relationships and real interpersonal support.

Primary Reason for the Problem

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Augustine said, "Thou hast made as for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee."

The father of our faith, Abraham, came into relationship with his Creator and Scripture said he was not merely a servant but "the friend of God" (James 2:23).

Likewise, Jesus reassured His disciples they were not just coworkers but "friends" (John 15:15). Friendship is a basic human need designed by God and He intends for us to first and foremost find it in Him.

What a difference this represents in Christianity from other world religions having a distant, angry "Allah" figure or multiple, mysterious "Krishna" entities that must be appeased by performance and good works.

So, in a society increasingly drifting from authentic relationship with the true living God, it should not surprise us when the void is left unfulfilled. "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every human being that cannot be filled by any human thing but only by the Creator Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ" said 17th-century French theologian Blaise Pascal.

"And in the naked night I saw, 10,000 people maybe more / People talking without speaking / People hearing without listening / People writing songs that voices never shared / No one dared / Disturb the sounds of silence." —Simon and Garfunkel

So we trot out reruns of favorite TV shows like Friends and Cheers and cry in our beer, singing nostalgic songs like "You've Got a Friend" (James Taylor), all the while wrestling with nagging loneliness within.

Friendships fizzle, so people in desperation opt for other alternatives: perpetual singleness, LGBTQ alternatives, drug and alcohol escapism, suicide or simply settling for the safe companionship of a friendly dog, which the American Heart Association confirms reduces health risks and can lengthen lifespan.

The Social Media Solution

Mobility in society, casual divorce, dissolution of the family, deception of the "gay" lifestyle, unsatisfactory promiscuity and "one night stands" all exacerbate lonely living and the continued quest to satisfy the friendship factor.

What about social media and the advantage of incredible connectivity?

Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite of what scores have come to believe. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any of the many modern-day supposed friendship-building, connectivity-enhancing devices give the illusion of multiple friendships that are often simply superficial substitutes for human contact. This is not the same as quality interaction and intimate friendship.

Real friendships take much more than simply "friending" online, which only produce shallow relationships all the while deceiving us into believing we have thousands of Facebook friends. Authentic friendships require an investment of time, what Aristotle called "sharing salt together"—not just sitting together passing salt across the table but sitting with another across the course of their lives, sharing its savor.

"The desire for friendship comes quickly; friendship does not." —Aristotle

Addressing an Addiction

Admit it or not, Americans are distracted by and addicted to social media rather than socializing. Survey numerous studies that show similar findings: 33% would rather text than talk on the phone; 3 in 4 Americans bring their phones to bed; 25% say the last thing they see before retiring is their phone; 93% sleep with their phones within arm's reach; 55% acknowledge they are missing out on valuable time with family and friends but still do it and 45% of Americans admit they have not made a new friend in five years.

Defeating loneliness and developing substantive versus superficial friendships starts by repenting, receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then committing to obey His Word as revealed in Scripture.

Next, we use our smartphones and computers wisely and purposefully. We make a quality decision to not let them become a substitute for real friendship building. We also purpose to drop the excuses for a lack of meaningful friendships like:

—I'm introverted.

—I don't like going to new places.

—I've been betrayed/dumped.

—Texting is more convenient.

—Human interaction is risky.

—I fear being rejected.

Dealing with loneliness and developing meaningful friendships are significant for our emotional, mental and spiritual health.

Jesus in His humanity modeled for us the need to grow in four major areas: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).

Here's the deal: Because of the prophetic significance of this topic and the tremendous potential it affords Christians in helping hurting and hopeless multitudes, I plan to continue this commentary. I'll provide you next week with a biblically informed overview of the 10 characteristics of friendship and 10 proven ways to make and maintain meaningful friendships in your life.

Be sure to listen to Larry Tomczak's 15-minute "Here's the Deal" podcast daily on the Charisma Podcast Network for further insights and encouragement on this and other relevant topics for your life.

Larry Tomczak is a cultural commentator of 46 yrs, Intercessors for America board member, best-selling author and a public policy adviser with Liberty Counsel. His new, innovative video/book, BULLSEYE, develops informed influencers in 30 days (see www.bullseyechallenge.com). and he has a variety of resources on his website (see www.larrytomczak.com). You can also hear his weekly podcast here.

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