In the late seventies, the band “The Police” released the song So Lonely on their “Outlandos d’Amour” album. So Lonely lived up to his name, as the English listening public largely ignored it, preferring the more soulful Roxanne. Part of this might be due to the fact many thought String, the lead singer of “The Police” was crooning “Sue Lawley” not “So Lonely.” Sue Lawley was a popular British TV reporter at the time. However, as “The Police” became a household name in the eighties, So Lonely was embraced not only for its Bob Marley vibe but for the lyrics themselves. “Now no one’s knocked upon my door, for a thousand years or more, all made up and nowhere to go, welcome to this one man show.” This comes years after Elvis belted out his rendition of Hank Williams “I Am So Lonely, I Can Cry.” Why do these two songs capture our ears and thereby, our heart? We all have been there at some point or another. To echo Elvis in his Heartbreak Hotel, most of us feel at some point or another “so lonely, we can die.”
Loneliness has been with us since the beginning. In the second chapter of Genesis, God, after creating Adam proclaims, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I am sure Adam was like “Umm, well, yes, I was kinda of hoping you might do something about that.” So, God gets to work. Creates creatures and critters. But God quickly recognizes that His work isn’t quite done. So, God pulls out the stops and fashions Eve at the cost of one of Adam’s ribs. Nothing is free in the world, right? Adam is more than happy to oblige when he sees the other half of humanity. Finally, it is no longer a one man show. Adam now has a companion he can do life with. All is good, perfect in fact, until this pesky serpent shows up but that is another story.
All this to say, humanity has wrestled with loneliness for eaons. And despite our more connected world, recent surveys show we now feel even more disconnected from each other. In a Harvard study done last year, thirty-six percent of Americans feel lonely all or most of the time. And if you assume this is voiced by our older population, you would be wrong. Sixty-one percent of people ages 18-25 reported a significant sense of loneliness. The truth is, it is the younger generations who are experiencing the sense of isolation the most. And it truly is an epidemic. Loneliness doesn’t only affect our emotional well-being, but also our health as well. One medical study suggests long-term loneliness adversely impacts longevity as much as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. A few years ago, Great Britain, recognizing the seriousness of the problem, designated a “Minister of Loneliness” to better address this issue. Last year, Japan did the the same in large part due to their burgeoning suicide rate, often a by-product of long-term loneliness.
In the Judeo-Christian worldview, we were created to be in a close relationship with God and one another. And even if we thrive in the first, we will suffer if we lack the second. What is the answer? I have no idea how to tackle this problem at a governmental level, and can only speak as a pastor. You and I need to take the steps to be in community. Period. And what I mean by “community” is a shared space/place where we are known and loved. In other words, to be in connection with at least one other human being that is aware of our hangups, failures, shortcomings, sins, mistakes, yet accepts us anyway…essentially like God with skin on. Yes, this takes time, effort, and work, but community is critical for our mind, body, and soul. And if we are in community, we need to do all we can to reach out to others who are not. Maybe it is the widow or widower across the street. Maybe it’s the “new kid” at our workplace who moved across the country to land a job but doesn’t know one Forsythian. Or maybe it’s the young mother in our neighborhood who is starving for some companionship with someone who doesn’t know the Spongebob SquarePants theme song by heart. We are to be in community and do all we can to invite others to join us in it. No one, even the most introverted among us, wants to exist in a “one-man or -woman show.” Living in community and inviting others to join us might just save a life…and that life might just be our own.