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America’s Loneliness Epidemic: How Should We Respond?

  • Michael Lee Stallard ConnectionCulture.com
America’s Loneliness Epidemic: How Should We Respond?
America and other democracies around the world are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. This diagnosis stems from research studies that found loneliness (feeling alone) and social isolation (not being around people) were both associated with a risk of early death that is on par with that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and exceeds the risk of early death from obesity. In May, the insurance company Cigna affirmed that loneliness in America has reached epidemic levels, based on its research findings from a survey of more than 20,000 American adults.

This should be of concern for all of us, regardless of how we are feeling personally, because loneliness triggers a host of negative effects, including a decline in physical and emotional health, greater incivility and violence, and a rise in addiction and suicide.

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Satan Isolates, the Lord Unites

Satan Isolates, the Lord Unites

I’ve come to see that while Satan and the forces of evil isolate people in order to weaken and destroy them, the Lord Jesus Christ connects and unites people through His love and grace. While, of course, it is important for us to spend time alone with the Lord, that is not the same as loneliness or social isolation. As one pastor I know says, “There are no lone rangers in the Kingdom of God.” Collectively, we are the body of Christ, uniquely gifted and called, but a body meant to be connected in mind and Spirit.

My personal favorite passage in Scripture on connection is Jesus’ glorious prayer recorded in John 17 in which He prays for all believers to be connected to Him, to God the Father and to each other. Genesis says that we were made in the plural “Our image” (Genesis 1:26) and that it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Psalm 68:5-6 describesGod’s desire for us not to be lonely by describing God as a “father to the fatherless” who “sets the lonely in families.”

We are also entreated to be connected to the wider community as well. I think of Jesus’ conversation with a man identified as a lawyer about the second greatest commandment of loving “your neighbor as yourself” and the Parable of the Good Samaritan that he told to illustrate who our “neighbor” is [see Luke 10:25-37].

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What Each of Us Can Do

What Each of Us Can Do

Day-to-day, what does the loneliness epidemic mean for us? God has empowered us with the Holy Spirit to reach out to the many people around us who are suffering from loneliness and show them God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, all of which together act to ease the pain and heal the brokenness that arises from loneliness.

Here are four “circles of influence” in which God may be calling you to make a difference and simple actions you might take to be a connector in each:

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Connect at Home

Connect at Home

Life is hard at times and connection should start at home as we humbly love and serve our family members and allow them to love and serve us. Take time to have dinner together, ask questions to learn what happened during their day and listen closely, ask for prayer requests and pray for each other, and intentionally affirm and encourage each other. Throughout the day, be on the lookout for ways to serve each other and jump at the opportunity, because serving is one of the ways to show you love them. 

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Connect at Your Church

Connect at Your Church

I look for people who appear to be alone and strike up a conversation with them. Often I will ask questions to learn about their interests then try to connect them with others I know who share those interests. God always blesses me with joy each time I connect people. When our daughters were teenagers they and my wife would teasingly call me “Mr. Coffee Hour” because I was often the person still chatting while the clean-up was beginning, the room was thinning out and our girls were past ready to head home.

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Connect in Your Community

Connect in Your Community

When out and about in the community, I keep an eye out for people who appear lonely or who are being ignored. At the stores and restaurants my wife and I frequent, it pains me to see how often people treat the employees like they don’t exist. I try to make eye contact with employees, smile, say hello, and even learn their names and get to know something about them. Several have become good friends and I love seeing them around town. 

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Connect at Work

Connect at Work

The workplace provides the best opportunity to connect with the lonely because we spend so many of our waking hours at work. Research by the Gallup Organization has shown that two-thirds of American workers don’t feel connected at work and that dampens their enthusiasm and has a negative effect on their performance. That, in turn, impacts how well the organization performs. Take time to get to know people’s stories and their interests outside of work. Discovering something you have in common is a step forward in forming a bond with another person (for example, it might be a favorite team or artist, a place you have visited, a food you love, a cause you are passionate about, a movie you’d like to see or where you fall in birth order). You can learn more about how to be an intentional connector in your workplace by reading sample chapters of the book, Connection Culture, the e-book 100 Ways to Connect, and our monthly newsletter on connecting at work, all at no cost at this link.  

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It takes effort and courage to reach out to others--and that's okay.

It takes effort and courage to reach out to others--and that's okay.

In the John 17 prayer, Jesus said that the love we show is a sign to people that God exists and that He loves them. In other words, when we love people, God often gives them a glimpse of Himself. I saw the power of this when a friend of mine once told me he would never go into any church. I just kept loving him and one day he said that he and his wife would come visit our church. Now they both love the Lord. I was floored by this, knowing it was nothing I did but it was God who worked in and through me to show His great love. And He can do that through you, too. How great is that?!

It may seem from the examples above that I am an extrovert who has never met a stranger. That’s not the case. It takes effort and sometimes courage to reach out and engage with others. Still, I’m convinced it is what God would have us do. I encourage you to pray for God to fill you with the Holy Spirit and give you eyes to see who He wants you to connect with each day. As you proactively reach out to connect with your family, your church family, people in your community and colleagues at work, just watch what happens.

Michael Lee Stallardis a thought leader, speaker and expert on how effective leaders boost human connection in cultures to improve the health and performance of individuals and organizations.  He is the author of Connection Cultureand primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out.

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Publication date: June 13, 2018





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