Sermon August 23, 2020

Remedy for Loneliness
Sermon August 23 2020
By Dr. Terry Swicegood

Dr. Vivek Murthy (VM) was the 19th Surgeon General of the United States. When he took the job in 2013, he did not intend on making loneliness the subject of his tenure as Surgeon General. But after traveling the country and listening to people’s stories about issues in their community, he recognized a pattern: Now quoting him: “Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, of depression, of anxiety, of premature death, of sleep disturbances, of dementia, of impaired wound healing, and the list goes on. When studies have actually looked at the mortality impact associated with loneliness, what they have found is that mortality impact is similar to the mortality impact seen with smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

When I was young, there were songs with titles like: “Only the Lonely”; “Lonely Girl”; “Are you Lonesome Tonight”; and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. Many modern songs don’t have those titles, but they deal with the feeling of loneliness just the same.

Even before our country was hit by the Corona Virus, we were undergoing an epidemic of loneliness. One out of every five Americans allow that they feel lonely. When you are stuck in your home or apartment, you don’t realize how much you miss people until you’re no longer around them. A smile, a hug, being physically close to someone– all boost your spirits and release feel-good hormones. We are created to connect with one another, to help one another, to love one another.

Loneliness is like a piano without keys,
Like a violin without strings.
Like a sanctuary without a congregation
Or a choir where no one sings.
Loneliness is like a blade of grass
Growing through a crack of cement.
Loneliness is like a camp ground
Without a single tent.
Loneliness is like a mocking bird
That cannot sing a song.
Loneliness is a feeling
That one does not belong.
Like a pansy in a corn field
Hidden where no one can see.
I know all there is to know about loneliness
Because it lives inside of me.” (Source Unknown)

All of us face loneliness at some point in our lives.  It is part and parcel of the human condition.  So, I want to jump to the chase and lay out four remedies for loneliness that can help us all.

First, a non-remedy.  I scoured the internet for sermons which contain remedies for loneliness.  I noticed that there was one common prescription in them all.  Here it is: “If you give your life wholeheartedly to Jesus and follow all of God’s commandments, you will overcome your loneliness.”  

Now you already know that I’m not against giving one’s life to Jesus, nor do I oppose following God’s commandments.  But I want to say, that while these two prescriptions are certainly helpful, they will not, by themselves, remove loneliness.        

Here are four remedies for loneliness.    

Number one: Connect with others daily.  COVID-19 presents an interesting problem and opportunity. If we don’t do anything differently, our loneliness will deepen.  Even though we don’t have the ability to see each other in person the same way we were able to pre-pandemic, there are small but important steps we can take to help strengthen connections in our life right now. We can, for example, put 15 minutes aside each day to make sure we’re reaching out to people we love, whether that’s by video conference or calling them on the phone or writing to see how they are.

Barbara and I try to Zoom with our kids in Holland once a week.  We live Facebook with our two grand girls in CLT.  It makes me sad each time I do this, but we stay connected.  

2. Be present to others.  If you’ve ever had the experience of being in conversation with someone when they were fully present, listening deeply to you when you’re pouring out your heart to them, you know that even five minutes of a conversation like this can be transforming.  It can make people understand that they really matter.  

I don’t know if you have noticed a common phenomenon in our culture that occurred before we stopped going out to eat.  There would be a mom or dad with their kids at Denny’s.  The mom and dad would be buried in their smart phones, totally ignoring their kids.  Now I’ve done that with my wife and friends and I’m not proud to confess it.  So, cut off your phone and tv. when you’re with other people.  Be with them.  Be really with them.  For they are life’s irreplaceable gifts.
3. Embrace solitude: On the surface it may seem counter intuitive.  But it turns out that our ability to connect with other people is driven by our ability to connect deeply with ourselves. And that can be just a few minutes sitting on our porch feeling the breeze against our face. That can be a few moments spent in meditation or in prayer or remembering three things you’re grateful for.   And when we approach other people from a place of being centered, we’re more able to listen to them, to focus on them and to forge a stronger connection with them.  

4.  Serve others. The reason service is so powerful is that it breaks the cycle of self-absorption and self-pity by shifting the focus from us to someone else–reaffirming that we have value to bring to the world. And even though we can’t go and volunteer at a soup kitchen as easily as we did before, we can reach out to a neighbor who might be struggling to get groceries because they’re worried about their risk of COVID-19. We can have food delivered to a friend who might be having a hard time. We can volunteer to work for a candidate for public office.   There are many ways that we can serve other people, especially now, when so many people are struggling.

These four remedies aren’t the final words on what we can do to combat loneliness.  There are others.   But they are a beginning.  

We read from Psalm 34 a bit earlier.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous person may have many troubles,
    but the Lord delivers him from them all;
 The Lord will rescue his servants;
    no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.  

There are just some days when ARE absolutely crushed in spirit, when we feel that we are all alone in this malign universe, and there is no one to come to our aid.  In moments like this, we can turn to our Bibles and read this uplifting Psalm once again.

It doesn’t guarantee that by reading this Psalm, and practicing the remedies that all our loneliness will dissipate, and that we will have perfect peace in our hearts.  But it will help.  It will help us today, tonight, and tomorrow, and give us all the strength and courage to get through each day of the coming week and be back here renewed next week.    

Dear God, I feel alone. Please bring the warmth of relationships into my life. Please cover my thoughts with hope. Please send your love into my heart. I know you are alive in all I experience. May the birdsong speak to my soul, May the trees remind me of life, May the bread I eat nourish my soul with its goodness, As I connect with the world around me. I give thanks for all those who love me, For all those who care. Help me to receive your hope in my heart, To embrace your life flowing in mine. I know I live and breathe as part of your family And dwell safely in you. I know you understand me. I am not alone. Amen.