A note from Kelly King: Several years ago I read about a journalist who confessed her loneliness in a newspaper column. The response she received was overwhelming. Emails and letters from women in a major metropolitan area revealed a reoccurring problem—we have a loneliness epidemic! If you find yourself in this position, consider some of Kaye’s encouragement and help today. If you aren’t experiencing loneliness, chances are high that someone you know is. Extend a hand of friendship with someone new and be a bridge-builder to close the gap of loneliness.
With Thanksgiving in our rear view mirrors, we are fast approaching, “The most wonderful time of the year,” or at least that is how the song goes. Sadly, for many, the holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year; they are the loneliest time of the year. Against the backdrop of tinsel and lights, parties and parades, our longing and need for connectedness is most glaring. We are lonely. According to psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD, “Loneliness is an epidemic.” She goes on to explain, “Loneliness isn’t the same thing as social isolation. It’s more about how you perceive your level of connectedness to others.”1 From this definition it is easy to see how we can be lonely even in a crowd, in a small group, in a church, or in a home.
The pain of loneliness goes far beyond being uncomfortable and in emotional pain. It affects both mental and physical health and is a risk factor for chronic health conditions. According to the Cleveland Clinic, loneliness increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can compromise the immune system, increase your risk for vascular problems, inflammation and heart disease.2
If you are ministering to women, you are ministering to some who are lonely. Our approach to this growing epidemic needs to be well planned and considered. We need new strategies and programs to tackle loneliness. What can we do to help?
Here are six ways we help to turn the tide of loneliness:
1. Talk about it more. Naming something is always the first step in finding freedom. When we fail to acknowledge and name our pain, we let it name us. As in all things, leaders go first. Share more openly about loneliness in your own life. I am currently in a season of loneliness. I have recently moved to Florida, and even though I am on staff at a large church, I don’t have friends yet. I am still unknown and not connected. This will pass. For some, it won’t just pass. Sharing our stories helps others determine if what they are experiencing is momentary or chronic. If it’s chronic, we need to take action.
2. Practice good health. By this I don’t mean just exercise, although exercise is the best form of stress reduction as it reduces cortisol levels in our bodies. Good health also includes getting enough sleep, eating well, and staying connected to God through spiritual practices.
3. Take daily baby steps toward increased connection. For example, spend time with someone instead of emailing them. Call instead of texting. Walk across the room at the office to have a conversation instead of sending an email. Listen to someone’s story instead of tweeting yours.
4. Remember quality of connection is more important than quantity. Don’t base your value on numbers of likes or followers. There is a sea of lonely people who are well “connected” on social media. Try connecting this week with just one other person for coffee (or tea, or lemonade, or a walk). Take time to hear each other’s stories.
5. Serve, volunteer, give. Giving, serving, or helping others is the very best way to overcome loneliness. It shifts our perspective, releases endorphins (the good feeling hormone), and could change the world all at the same time!
6. Seek professional help. If loneliness has become pervasive, please seek counsel. I am an advocate of Christian counseling. The help helps!
The invitation to all of us who minister to hurting women is to create space, moments, or events where we can safely tell our stories and find connection. Psalm 68:6a says, “God sets the lonely in families…” (NIV). My challenge to all of us who minister to women, no, my challenge to all of us as human beings, is to commit to two things with the “one anothers” in our lives: love well and listen well. We love well by creating space and time in our calendars to invite people to sit and tell us their stories. We listen well by suspending judgment and by not trying to solve or fix or preach. We simply ask and listen. Let’s overcome this loneliness epidemic one story at a time.
Something tells me that as you were reading this, the Spirit placed the name of someone on your heart who needs an invitation to tell her story. Please follow that prompt!
Kaye Hurta has a Masters Degree in counseling from Liberty University and is a crisis counselor for Women’s Events through LifeWay Christian Resources. Whether speaking, singing, or listening, Kaye’s passion is to help others find intimacy with Christ and soul transformation through the living pages of His Word. Kaye met and married her husband Chris in Austin, Texas in 1987. They have two daughters through the miracle of adoption, Madison and Cami. Kaye is also a contributing author for the LifeWay resource, Women Reaching Women in Crisis.
1. “What Happens in Your Body When You’re Lonely?” Cleveland Clinic, February 23, 2018, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-in-your-body-when-youre-lonely/