The BBC have been conducting a survey called the Loneliness Experiment. Fifty-five thousand people from 237 countries around the world completed the survey, making it one of the largest ever studies on the subject.
On average, 33% of people claim to suffer with loneliness.
This can be due to moving away from friends or family; it might arise suddenly through the loss of a loved one; ageing or illness require some to spend long periods at home. For others, lifelong physical disabilities keep them trapped at home or in hospital; another group suffers depression and other forms of mental health issues, leaving them afraid of social situations, finding it difficult to form friendships.The top reasons given for loneliness by respondents included having no-one to talk to or understand them and feeling left out or disconnected.
BBC radio has been featuring stories of lonely people from 90 year old widows living alone through to 20 somethings, some even in long term relationships, all expressing a sense of being isolated and alone.
Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey is that around 40% of young people aged 16-24 feel lonely “often” or “very often”.
This is the age group you might expect to have the most friends and to be having the most fun; they normally have the freedom of being independent with few family commitments; they are permanently connected online with entertainment and social media friends. And yet it seems that many are not forming deep and lasting friendships. Rather, their online interactions are possibly becoming a substitute for the challenge and pleasure of building genuine, face-to-face friendships and making them less able to relate socially when they do meet with real people. The result is a profound sense of isolation for many.
Like God – who is Father, Son and Spirit – we as human beings made in his image are built for relationship. Although most of us enjoy our own company for periods of time, none of us really want to be alone. We want friends, not just because they help us do things, but for their company – people to share in our lives.
As Christians, the message of the gospel is an invitation to have the ultimate friendship we yearn for, a relationship with God. And the church community is also a place where we can be part of a family and need never feel alone.
As the church we should be speaking a message of hope for the lonely – both young and old – and being a place where the lonely find real friends.