By Deacon Daniel Malyon
“In the practice of thanking God for all situations, we will have no need to fear loneliness” Coping With Loneliness | By Deacon Daniel Malyon.
With the ongoing global situation, and our increasing dependence on virtual forms of communication, the world faces a silent epidemic. This is not an epidemic of any physical kind or one which can be fought through advances in science but the epidemic of loneliness. Though this has been something mankind has struggled with over centuries, the modern loneliness suffered by many I the modern world holds the challenge of not coming from a lack of overall interaction but a lack of specifically human interaction.
With this growing crisis, we are called to ask how we respond to this with regards to our faith and how we define and work to solve such problems.
The first approach to the cause of this epidemic is, as mentioned, our reliance on non-human forms of communication over physical interaction. This is an especially prevalent issue with ongoing lockdowns and social distancing preventing human interaction and often preventing people even seeing or passing others silently for weeks or months on end.
The addition of our wider reliance on forms of electronic communication multiplies the effects of this danger by tricking us into believing we are engaging with others in the same manner as we previously would, without actually allowing us to witness the subtle interactions which we rely on.
“A lack of this is detrimental to our capacity to both give and be receptive of the love of others, leading to a feeling of dejection and loneliness.” Coping With Loneliness | By Deacon Daniel Malyon.
Scripture discusses the importance of interaction multiple times. Psalm 113 begins with the words, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” celebrating the joy of loving interaction. Similarly, in St Paul’s letter to the Romans we are told of the Church’s role as the body of Christ, and how “we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” (Romans 12:5). In this manner our capacity to show Christian love in its fullness is dependent on our communal life.
Indeed, we can still run many aspects of our lives through virtual means, but the loving engagements we take such joy in are occurrences of witnessing community. In the same manner that Christ’s own ministry was one of travelling and interacting with others when they encountered him, we are called to interact. We are not simply called to repeat words from far off, but to be actively and visibly engaged with others on a human level. A lack of this is detrimental to our capacity to both give and be receptive of the love of others, leading to a feeling of dejection and loneliness.
A second, and often lesser cause of this struggle is our developing sense of pride in ourselves, again linked to the lack of empathic engagement we witness in our modern society. This lack of empathy for others is a growing threat in modern society, with groups seeking to vindicate themselves over others and seeking quick subjective victories over others instead of meaningful engagement to seek a united front on an issue.
“This is again something which leads to a sense of loneliness due to feeling separate from the community due to either our own sense of shattered pride or falling victim to theirs.” Coping With Loneliness | By Deacon Daniel Malyon.
St Paul speaks of the Christian approach to this question in the light of the Christian life in Romans 12:16, telling the community to, “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” However, in the modern setting we see a rise in dedication to self-proclamation and building up the reputation of the self over the community, as a representative or authority, often leading to a lack of stability in ones self.
In the same manner we often experience what we see as a lack of support when we seek to express ourselves like the haughty, or wish to seek validation from others wishing to bring themselves to heights, and when this is not received, we can feel left out or unsupported. This is again something which leads to a sense of loneliness due to feeling separate from the community due to either our own sense of shattered pride or falling victim to theirs.
Coping With Loneliness | The Solutions
So, what do we find as solutions to these ongoing struggles? Alongside the clear solutions sought through emotional support and psychology we can look to simple practices and aspects of our faith to help work through these, since they are not modern challenges, but modern re-emergence’s of problems humanity has had to cope with for millennia.
In the second chapter of Jonah, we see Jonah cry out to the Lord, his prayer starting with the words, ““Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:2) In his affliction Jonah sought solace and hope through interaction with the Lord. In the same manner, we can find solace and be brought out of the depths of our challenges through our hope in the Lord and through simply applying these aspects in our own lives.
The first of these is prayer, something we all engage in the practice of without often applying it to our mindsets and actions outside of simply stating the words. Through the praxis of prayer and seeking of hope in the Lord through this we are often able to reflect on our situation in a more meaningful manner. St Mark the Monk taught that, “When one reads the Holy Scriptures, one should apply everything to oneself and not to someone else,” in the same manner we are taught to meditate on scripture and on the words of our prayers to apply these to our daily lives.
If we are asking, in our prayers, to have the courage to embrace the struggles we face in life we should also be able to develop the opportunity to face them without developing the sense of hopelessness or abandonment we feel when facing loneliness.
“Even if heaven were to fall and cleave to the earth, the humble man would not be dismayed.” Coping With Loneliness | By Deacon Daniel Malyon.
In a similar way, the Christian practice of humility is one which allows us to find hope and leave aside fears. Isaac the Syrian wrote extensively on the topic, stating, “Even if heaven were to fall and cleave to the earth, the humble man would not be dismayed.” If we follow Christ’s teachings of embracing and seeking the goodness in all situations, in the practice of thanking God for all situations, we will have no need to fear loneliness but have ourselves ready to receive others when the time is deemed right.
My recognising God’s providence in all things we can work to embrace the situation and seek to use it efficiently for our good and that of others.
Secondly, on a more practical level, seeking out the small experiences of interaction where possible whether it be simply saying good morning to a neighbour or sparking conversation with a passer-by, these actions can allow us to maintain a connection and sense of community with others. Throughout the Gospels we see Christ bringing joy through simply greeting others or spending small amounts of time in their presence teaching and demonstrating God’s love through his actions.
In the same manner we should ensure that we are greeting others in a manner which will leave them with joy, for even a single moment of joy can sustain someone for a day. If we live a life of Christian praxis through prayer, humility and acts of love we can live as a constant reminder that none of us are truly alone when living in the presence of God.
By: Deacon Daniel Malyon | A Deacon of St Paul’s Ministry and St Mary & Pope Kyrillos VI Church. United Kingdom ~ Coptic Diocese of London.
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