Loneliness: how to help yourself and others

Although many single Christians are generally happy, there are times when they report feeling lonely. Some feel lonely a lot of the time, others at particular points.

They are not alone. According to the Mental Health Foundation, more than a third of people between the ages of 18 and 34 struggle with feelings of isolation. This, in turn, can have a damaging effect on their health, both mentally and physically.

If you are one of those who are struggling with loneliness, even (or especially) in church, there are a number of practical steps that you can take to be social and help yourself and others who may be in the same situation.  You could consider joining a local group, taking part in a single Christian event or even starting your own group.

In the following article, journalist Catherine Francis offers some helpful tips for tackling loneliness.

 

How can I deal with loneliness?

By Catherine Francis     

       'I have no one to share my life with, and I feel profoundly lonely.'

       'I'm busy and distracted at work, but the evenings are really tough.'

       'Church is the place where I feel most alone – sometimes I can’t face going at all.'

If you’re feeling lonely… you’re not alone. Many people, single and otherwise, struggle with feelings of loneliness, and it’s not just a problem of old age – research by the Mental Health Foundation found that more than a third of people aged between 18 and 34 struggle with loneliness. Feeling isolated can have a damaging effect on both your mental and physical health.

Sadly, churches don’t always offer the network of friendships and relationships that can help to alleviate loneliness in their members. According to the largest ever survey of single Christians, undertaken by Christian Connection, many single people feel excluded from church events that are largely geared towards families. They also find couples and families socialise together, and single people don’t make the list – unless they get a partner, when the invitations miraculously start arriving! Even worse, when someone is widowed or divorced, they sometimes find the invitations dry up and their support network disappears just when they need it most.

There’s a lot churches can do to foster a community that doesn’t leave singles feeling excluded, and Single Christians is trying to encourage churches to be more nurturing of their single members (see below for an article for church leaders). However, we can’t just sit back and wait for someone else to solve the issue. There are lots of positive things we can do now to improve the situation for ourselves and others.  

 5 ways to lead by example

If you’re feeling lonely in your church, there’s a good chance other people are too. You can start the ball rolling with a few pro-active efforts yourself. Slowly, the social life of the church will start to expand, and the community will move closer to being the supportive network it should be.

  • Invite people round. It doesn’t have to be a formal dinner party – a pizza evening, or a lunch of soup, bread and cheese, will be relaxed and great for chatting and getting to know each other. Invite a mixture of single people and couples, and be sure to include people you don’t know well or those new to the church. It’ll encourage others to do the same – and as a bonus, you’ll get some return invitations!
  • Remind your leaders of the singles in the congregation. Church leaders may be unaware that they approach prayers, sermons and social activities as if everyone is married with children. If you feel confident enough, explain to your church leaders how invisible this makes single people feel, and point them to the article below.
  • Arrange a meal out. A pub lunch or an evening at a restaurant can be thrown open to the whole church, or a particular sub-group – such as singles, people in their 30s-40s, or those who live in a particular area. Make sure it’s flagged up in the church notices. A monthly event is excellent for growing relationships and gathering in new people. Be mindful of keeping it accessible for people on a low budget, and those of different abilities.
  • Start volunteering at church. Duties such as welcoming on the door or serving coffee after the service are an excellent way to get to know others. You’ll chat to your fellow volunteers as you work together, plus you get to say hello to every person at church that day. Encourage other singles to do the same.
  • Start a hobby group. Love crafting, reading or rambling? You can bet there are other people in your church who enjoy the same thing. Starting a monthly crafting club, book group or walking club will help to build a network of relationships that will benefit everyone. If you explain your reasons to your leaders, they may allow you to use a room in the church for meetings.

5 ways to ease your own loneliness

Alongside cultivating a more friendship-based culture at church, there are several things you can do to help yourself…

  • Don’t be embarrassed to tell people you’re lonely. Often, all it takes is for them to be reminded of your situation, and they’ll start making an effort to include you.
  • Use social media to get in touch with old friends. It’s easy to lose contact with friends over the years. Old acquaintances may be delighted to hear from you and to renew your friendship. They may be lonely, too!
  • Investigate alternative living arrangements. Having your own place is all very well, but if you hate going home to an empty house, you may want to consider alternatives. If you rent, a flat share with others may suit you – you can advertise at church or on websites like www.christianflatshare.org. If you have a spare room, you could consider renting it to a friendly lodger.
  • Consider getting a pet. Many people find the physical contact and interaction with pets makes home a warmer, happier place. Educate yourself on the needs of different animals (dogs are rarely suitable for single people who work outside the home, but cats can thrive), then visit a rescue centre – you’ll transform two lonely lives!
  • Pray. It’s a cop-out to be told that God can make up for not having a partner – we’ve all heard it, and we know it’s far from true! However, building a strong prayer life and bringing your deepest longings to God can certainly help.  

 

RELATED INFORMATION:

Church leaders: we have a page here to help you understand loneliness within your congregation, and foster a community that doesn’t leave people feeling excluded and alone.