A pastoral message from our Rector - July 2020
An email ‘pinged’ into my inbox this morning reminding me that this week is Loneliness Awareness Week [15th – 20th June 2020]. As the authors of the email reminded me, amidst the continuing coronavirus lockdown this is more topical than ever. But even before the lockdown, loneliness was a profoundly serious issue. When we think of the lonely our thoughts perhaps instinctively turn towards that older person, now living on their own. But in truth, anyone can feel lonely and at any age; even when surrounded by people, and even when they have many friends or acquaintances. The sad truth is that loneliness is a much broader problem than we may often realise or appreciate.
As a part of the gradual easing of the coronavirus lockdown the government recently announced that single adults who are living alone could form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. This has come as a welcome blessing for many who have shared with me the joy of being able to see family members again for the first time in months. For my part, I’m looking forward to seeing my eldest son for the first time since February other than via Zoom. But for many who are still shielding and isolating the challenge of loneliness continues and for others loneliness is a part of their life, lockdown or not and this should be a cause for concern for us all, particularly given research that suggests that there are established links between loneliness and health status and that loneliness and social isolation can increase mortality risk quite substantially.
During the lockdown many of us have made much greater efforts than ever before to be in touch with those we know who are alone, as well as with those others who perhaps we didn’t previously know at all. The telephone has been rediscovered and new ways of gathering have been found. I know of someone who has really appreciated that gentle, passing ‘tap’ on the window, that has reminded them that they are not alone, that there are others right by them. But as the lockdown restrictions are further eased and as life for many resumes some sort of pre-virus normality there needs to be increased awareness from us all for those around us who may still be struggling with loneliness.
Quite interestingly, the Bible doesn’t say anything directly about loneliness. However, loneliness often occurs in the lives of those we read about in the scriptures. King David spoke of his loneliness and of his longing to be connected to God: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” he said (Psalm 25: 16). And Jeremiah, a prophet who faced enormous struggles as he tried to deliver the message given to him by God for the people of Israel, cried out to God in his anguish and through his tears: “I never sat in the company of revellers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me” (Jeremiah 15: 17). Even Jesus knew the desolation of loneliness, at his crucifixion, and when he was deserted by his friends and subjected to the mockery and scorn of the crowds: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15: 34). Personally, I have always found reading or listening to scripture a source of huge comfort whenever I may be feeling down or alone and never least because at its foundation, as God’s Word, it reminds me of the truth that I am never alone. Take the great words of Psalm 23 as an example; they speak of an absence of fear because ‘for you (God) are with me’ (Psalm 23: 4). The writer of the psalm then goes on to assure us that to be God’s guest is to be more than an acquaintance, invited for a day. It is to live with him forever (Psalm 23: 6). So, when I read scripture or hear it read I am reminded that the truth is that God is faithful and no matter how we feel, no matter how alone we are, he is there offering love that is deeper and richer and more lasting than anything we can even begin to grasp.
It’s all about being united with another. As the easing of lockdown continues, we must all relate to and remain close to those who may be lonely, but aware too of those who are lonely but who may be much less obvious to us. And to anyone experiencing loneliness, well, let me encourage you to be connected by speaking out and telling others of your loneliness - please, do be in touch with me if you think I may be able to help (01444 892332). At very least, we can have a chat.
And if loneliness isn’t something that you know for yourself right now, well, one day you may. So, perhaps it is something to give some extra thought to today. What I have learned from my own experience is that being connected with the Lord Jesus means that we will never be alone and that all of those who seek him will know for themselves the love he has for them, a love that lasts forever. Now, that must be worth at least thinking about.
With my love and prayers,