This is as harmful to the body as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. This increases the chance of getting certain diseases. People who suffer from this have 30% higher chance to suffer from a stroke, 40% higher chance to suffer from dementia, and twice the chance to suffer from a heart disease, compared with healthy people. What is this?
It is loneliness. Vivek H. Murthy, who is a former Vice Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, pointed out that loneliness is a factor that causes issues of modern society such as depression and drug addiction. He stated that the diseases that break out from loneliness can be more harmful to the body than general physical diseases. He even became the first person to add loneliness to the list of diseases that require nation’s intensive special care while he was in office. Other countries such as Australia and Ireland have also recognized the seriousness of loneliness and are seeking solutions.
The U.K. has even appointed a “Minister for Loneliness,” and is actively making movements to overcome loneliness. Residents in various parts of the U.K. voluntarily open parties in June every year. It is called “The Great Get Together,” a three-day long event where they share food and conversation. As they plan for the event with the neighbors and decide the location of the event and food to serve, it helps reduce their loneliness. 71% of the participants answered that it helped relieve their loneliness. A woman from Bristol said, “For the past 20 years I’ve suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, which made it hard for me to work or to interact with other people. But preparing the event, I definitely got energy.”
“The Men’s Shed Movement” which is for middle-aged men suffering from lethargy and loneliness after retirement displays a similar effect. Just as its name shows, the participants gather together at a shed and focus on productive activities such as making things like furniture, flower pots, and toys, or repairing cars. Their goal is to remove loneliness and isolation through teamwork.
What these two projects have in common is that they are the activities that people do together. By communicating and sharing emotions with one another, they find out that they are not alone and feel less lonely and also gain strength. The problem is that the current situation doesn’t allow us time to spend together with others as much as before.
Our lifestyle has changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has become a norm to work from home or take online lessons; and meeting up with friends or having a meal together with friends has become a special event. During this time when it’s easier for anybody to be swept by the waves of loneliness, there is one thing we must remember. It is the fact that God is always with us.
After the confrontation against the 850 Baal worshipers, Elijah fled to the desert away from the threat of his enemies. While Elijah was thinking that no one was by his side, God sent His angel to him to take care of him, and when he was staying on Mount Horeb, God let him realize that he was not alone by saying, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal.” Having pulled himself together, Elijah got himself back up and carried out his mission (1 Ki 19; Ro 11:2–5).
Also, when Daniel was praying toward Jerusalem every day while he was living in captivity in Babylon, God was always with him and answered his prayers. Even in the critical moment when he was thrown into the lions’ den, God sent an angel and protected him (Da 9:20–23; 6:16–23). As for Moses who was leading the Israelites in the desert after the Exodus, God gathered 70 people to be in charge of the people so that Moses wouldn’t have to carry the heavy load of responsibility all by himself, and God stayed with him wherever he went and helped him (Nu 11:14–17).
According to the recent survey on the mental health affected by the COVID-19, which the research teams of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and Stanford University in the U.S. conducted, 35 percent of around 15,000 participants answered that they often feel lonely. We all have the moments when we feel like there is no one to talk with about things that are on our minds, or feel emptiness in our hearts, or suddenly feel lonely. Whenever we have such moments, let’s feel the hands of God who takes care of every detail of our souls. Since God is always with us on our paths, we are not alone. Our paths of faith are not lonely because we also have brothers and sisters who encourage and root for one another.