We live in a lonely world.
Some people have even said that despite (and maybe even because of) our global and immediate connectivity online and on our smartphones and tablets, we are experiencing a “loneliness epidemic.”
It’s strange, but even as we live in a world where we are bombarded with people at work, in school, on the streets, at the movies, or on social media feeds with hundreds, or thousands, of friends, contacts, and followers…we all know that modern life can get kind of lonely. We know that there is a deficit of true, fulfilling, and meaningful connection.
No matter how many likes we get on our photos online, no matter how many friends we think we have on Facebook, no matter how many people we text with on a daily basis…we feel lonely. Deserted. Isolated.
Fortune Magazine published a study in June 2016 and reported that, “The percentage of Americans who responded that they regularly or frequently felt lonely was between 11% and 20% in the 1970s and 1980s…” Now, it’s closer to 40% or 45%.
That means that nearly half of us regularly, or even frequently, feel lonely.
Maybe that’s you. Perhaps you know what it is to feel alone. Perhaps you’ve felt lonely recently. Perhaps you feel isolated right now as you surf the web and seek out articles on what to do about your increasing despair about it.
Back in 2009, I volunteered with an organization called the Themba Trust in Mpumalanga, South Africa. When I was living there, I got really lonely.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful network of fellow volunteers, friends, and community members to connect to, plus Facebook and Skype to connect with friends and family back home. But I still couldn’t shake my feeling of isolation.
About six months into my time there, I went to a conference called Amahoro, which means peace. Claude Nikondeah, from Burundi, kicked off the conference by introducing us to the concept of ubuntu — the sub-Saharan philosophy that we are persons through other persons. Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, is how it is said in isiZulu.
Nikondeha explained it like this: “Our humanity is all bundled up together—yours, mine, those outside this camp, even those across the world. We are interconnected, and we are affected by the well-being of one another.”
He went on to talk about when someone else is hungry, we cannot feel full; that when someone else is thirsty, we cannot feel satiated; that when someone else is hurting, we cannot be at peace.
Suddenly, I had an entirely new perspective on my loneliness. Better yet, I had a whole new perspective on my place in the world.
No matter where I was, no matter who I was around, I was meant to be in community with the people in my life. In fact, I was meant to be in community with everyone.
I know that may sound really ridiculous and insanely idealistic, but walking away from that camp I had a new point of view.
When I was lonely, I knew someone else out there felt that pain too. And so, automatically, I wasn’t alone. Even more, when I thought about the other person feeling alone, I felt driven to connect—maybe not to find that person, but find somebody to talk to, relate with, and share life with.
Taking it one step further, when I felt fulfilled socially, I could not help but think of people out there who don’t feel good enough or wanted enough. And so, I wanted to reach out to them, invite them into my home, share a meal with them, or connect in some other way.
I wanted to reach out because I sensed—for perhaps the first time in my life—that I was not truly alone.
And why? Because I was needed. Other people who were hungry, thirsty, or alone needed me to feed them, slake their thirst, or be with them for a while just to let them know they weren’t alone…and neither was I.
I suddenly understood what Archbishop Desmond Tutu meant when he said, “We are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and all of creation.”
My hope is that if you’re reading this and feeling lonely, feeling isolated, feeling like you don’t belong, like you aren’t worth it, aren’t pretty enough, aren’t good enough, don’t have enough “likes” on Instagram, or followers on Twitter, or friends on Facebook…that you would know that you are not alone.
You are part of something bigger and greater and grander than you can possibly imagine—a global, cosmopolitan, human community—that needs you.
You are part of, and called to, a community.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some thoughts on loneliness from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.