Jesus people, loving people

The disease of loneliness

Mother Teresa called loneliness the 'greatest disease' in Western society, and that still stands true today.

Can you imagine what it’s like to leave work at the end of the day on Friday, and not see or speak to anyone else until Monday morning, when you go back to work?

That was the premise of a book, called “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”, written by Gail Honeyman. The central character, Eleanor, spends every weekend and most of her free time alone, with a pot plant as her main confidante.

When interviewed, the author said that the idea had grown out of an article that she’d read, in which a young woman who lived in a big city said that it was not unusual for her to go the whole weekend without talking to another person.

In 2011, the documentary Dreams of a Life chronicled the haunting story of Joyce Carol Vincent. She was a 38 year-old woman whose decomposing body was discovered in her London flat three years after her death. In an article on The Guardian website, Carol Morley, the director of Dreams of a Life, said:

“The image of the television flickering over her decomposing body haunted me as I got off the train on to the crowded platform. In a city such as London, home to 8 million people, how could someone’s absence go unnoticed for so long? Who was Joyce Vincent? What was she like? How could she have been forgotten?”

Tracey Crouch, the current minister for sport and civil society, has been recently commissioned by Theresa May to head up a government-wide group with responsibilities for policies connected to loneliness. This comes after a report from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness argued that loneliness is a “giant evil” of our time. Labour MP Rachel Reeves said:

“In the last few decades, loneliness has escalated from personal misfortune into a social epidemic. More and more of us live alone. We work at home more. We spend a greater part of our day alone than we did 10 years ago. It sometimes feels like our best friend is the smartphone.”

The issue of loneliness runs through our society at every level; from busy businessmen to old people, living at home, without any family to visit them. A survey done by the charity Age UK in 2014, found that two fifths of all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company.

As Christians, part of our call is to show the world the love of Jesus, to show the world what the kingdom of God looks like. In the bible, Jesus was often found breaking down social boundaries, and bringing the lonely into God’s family. He had dinner with tax collectors, who were shunned by society, he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, who was an outcast and looked down on by her own people.

Mother Teresa observed that for the Western society, the “greatest disease” wasn’t a physical one, but being “unloved”. She said:

“We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty – it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

Let’s be on the lookout for how we can include people, invite people in to our families and churches, offer people the love that is missing and show them the greatest fulfilment of every longing, lonely heart: God’s love.

Published 8th February 2018 with tags: church loneliness

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