Loneliness—Are You Determined to Fight It and Win?
ARE you lonely? There are occasions in life when it is natural to feel lonely, whether you are married or single, whether you are a man or a woman, whether you are old or young. Realize also that being alone does not necessarily cause loneliness. A lone scholar absorbed in his research does not feel lonely. A lone artist creating a painting has no room to feel lonely. They welcome a solitary moment, and solitude is then their best friend.
The feeling of true loneliness builds up from the very inside of us rather than from the outside. Loneliness may be triggered by some saddening event—a death, a divorce, a lost job, some tragedy. When we light our inner world brightly, that loneliness can be made to diminish, perhaps even disappear in time, and the loss that afflicted us can be accommodated, absorbed.
Feelings arise from your thoughts. After a loss has been absorbed and the feelings it produced have been allowed to recede into the background, it is time to give prominence to upbuilding thoughts that allow you to get on with your life.
Bestir yourself. Take yourself in hand. There are positive things to be done. So be outgoing. Phone someone. Write a letter. Read a book. Invite people over. Have an interchange of ideas. To have friends, you must show yourself friendly. Reach into yourself to reach out to others. Show little kindnesses. Share some comforting spiritual tidbit with them. You will find Jesus’ words to be true: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” You will realize another proverbial truth: “The one freely watering others will himself also be freely watered.”—Acts 20:35; Proverbs 11:25.
It Is Up To You
Difficult to do? Easier said than done? Everything worthwhile is easier said than done. That’s what makes the doing of it satisfying to you. You have to put forth special effort. A part of you goes into the giving, and the bright light inside of you grows brighter. It is up to you to put forth the effort to rout the loneliness that seeks to dominate you. A writer in Modern Maturity magazine said: “No one else is responsible for your loneliness, but you can do something about it. You can open up your life with a single friendship. You can forgive someone whom you feel has hurt you. You can write a letter. You can make a phone call. Only you can turn your life around. There is no other human being who can do it for you.” He quoted a letter that he had received that “hits the nail squarely on the head: ‘I tell people it’s up to themselves to keep their lives from being lonely or unfulfilled. Get with it!’”
Your helpful friends need not be limited to those who are human beings. A doctor of veterinary medicine said: “The greatest problems confronting the elderly aren’t physical ailments, but the loneliness and rejection they experience. By providing . . . companionship, animal pets (including dogs) give purpose and meaning at a time when the elderly often are alienated from society.” Better Homes and Gardens magazine said: “Pets help treat the emotionally disturbed; motivate the physically ill, the handicapped, and the disabled; and revitalize the lonely and elderly.” Another magazine article said of people newly cultivating an interest in pets: “Patients’ anxieties lessened and they could express love to their pets without fear of rejection. Later they opened up with people, first talking about the care of their pets. They began to feel a responsibility. They felt needed, something depended on them.”
Too often the one suffering from loneliness will not rally himself sufficiently to help himself, to lift himself out of the depths of his despair. There is an inertia, an unwillingness, to exert himself to that extent, but if he is to get to the bottom of his loneliness, it must be done. Dr. James Lynch wrote of people’s resistance to advice they find hard to take: “The human condition is such that we generally resist hearing, or at least resist incorporating into our behavior, information we do not like.” A person may want to escape his loneliness, but he may not be willing to muster up the willpower needed to effect the release.
Act as You Want to Feel
To overcome a deep depression, one needs to persist in pursuing real cheerfulness and kindliness. (Compare Acts 20:35.) This calls for breaking through the entrenched mood of loneliness by acting just the opposite of its deadening lethargy. Act happy, dance around, sing a jolly song. Do anything reflecting happiness. Exaggerate it, overdo it, crowd out the morose mood with happy thoughts. Such as?
Such as those at Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.”
The need is to put some meaning into your life. If you feel that your life has some meaning, you will be energized to respond to that and seek to fulfill it. You will not likely fall into a feeling of despondent loneliness. This is interestingly shown in Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. He discusses it relative to prisoners in Hitler’s concentration camps. Those who had no sense of meaning in their lives succumbed to loneliness and lacked the will to live. But “the consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life.” He continued: “Suffering ceases to be suffering in some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice. . . . Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain, but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.”
The Ultimate Relationship You Need
The way to achieve a truly spiritual outlook is to come all the way to God and his Word, the Bible. Faith in God and earnest prayer to him can give our lives meaning. Then, even if human relationships crumble, we are not alone, not condemned to loneliness. As Frankl said, suffering with meaning is bearable, even a source of joy. One observer of human nature said: “A martyr at the stake may have happiness that a king on his throne might envy.”
The apostles of Christ felt joy from Jehovah when persecuted by men; such suffering held great meaning for them. “Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens; for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) A similar response is recorded at Acts 5:40, 41: “They summoned the apostles, flogged them, and ordered them to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus’ name, and let them go. These, therefore, went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.”
Where You Tend a Rose, a Thistle Cannot Grow
Fill the soil of your mind with seeds of beauty and positive purpose; leave no room for the seeds of negative despair and bleak loneliness. (Compare Colossians 3:2; 4:2.) Difficult to do? Under certain circumstances, seemingly impossible. A poet noted: “Where you tend a rose, . . . a thistle cannot grow,” which again requires positive effort and determined exercise of willpower. But it can be done, is being done.
Take the case of Laurel Nisbet. She contracted polio and at 36 years of age was placed in an iron lung, where she lay flat on her back for 37 years. Totally paralyzed from the neck down, she could move her head, but that was all. At first she was sad beyond despair. Then, after about a day of self-pity, she decided, ‘Enough of that!’ She had two children to raise and a husband to care for. She began to rebuild her life; she learned to manage her home from an iron lung.
Laurel slept very little. How did she pass the long nighttime hours? Giving in to loneliness? No. She prayed to her heavenly Father, Jehovah. Prayed for strength for herself, prayed for her Christian brothers and sisters, and prayed for opportunities to witness to others about God’s Kingdom. She devised ways to preach and impressed many by her witnessing for Jehovah’s name. She allowed no thistles of loneliness to grow; she was too busy tending the roses.
That also was the case with a Watch Tower missionary, Harold King. Sentenced to five years in solitary confinement in a Chinese prison, he was a perfect candidate for a long siege of loneliness. He rejected that negative outlook, however, and by a deliberate act of willpower launched his mind on a different course. He later described it as follows:
“I arranged for a program of ‘preaching’ activity. But to whom does one preach when in solitary confinement? I decided that I would build up some appropriate Bible sermons from the things I could remember and then preach to imaginary characters. Then I started out on the work, as it were, knocking on an imaginary door and witnessing to an imaginary householder, visiting several doors during the morning. In time I met an imaginary Mrs. Carter, who showed some interest, and after a number of return visits we arranged to have a regular Bible study. In the course of this study we covered the principal themes from the book ‘Let God Be True,’ as I remembered them. All this I did aloud, so that the sound of these things would further impress them on my mind.”
The thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned in Hitler’s concentration camps could have gained their freedom if they had just renounced their faith. Very few did. Thousands died faithful—some by execution, some by sickness and malnutrition. One imprisoned Witness—Josef by name—had two brothers in other camps. One was forced to lie down with his face upward to watch the blade descend that took off his head. Josef explained: “When others in the camp heard about this they congratulated me. Their positive attitude touched me deeply. Remaining loyal meant more to us than survival.”
His other brother, facing a firing squad, was asked if he wished to say anything. He asked permission to say a prayer, and permission was granted. It was filled with such touching pathos and heartfelt joy that when the order to fire was given, not one of the squad obeyed. The order was repeated, whereupon one shot was fired, hitting him in the body. Furious at this, the commanding officer then drew his own pistol and finished the execution.
What Can Make Lives Truly Meaningful
All these cases involved strong faith in God. When all else has been tried and fails, it is always there to bring victory over loneliness and make lives once empty filled with meaning. Many lives considered meaningful in a worldly way are actually meaningless. Why is this so? Because these end up dead, returned to dust, sunk into oblivion, having left no ripple on the seas of humanity, no footprint on the sands of time. It is as Ecclesiastes 9:5 says: “For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten.” Any sense of meaning attributed to lives lived apart from Jehovah’s purposes is empty vanity.
Look at the starry heavens, feel the vastness of this dark vault overhead, and your sense of meaningfulness shrivels into nothing. You understand the psalmist David’s feelings when he wrote: “When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared, what is mortal man that you keep him in mind, and the son of earthling man that you take care of him?” David’s son Solomon dismissed man’s works, saying, “Everything is vanity,” and concluded: “The conclusion of the matter, everything having been heard, is: Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.”—Psalm 8:3, 4; Ecclesiastes 12:8, 13.
In the final analysis, then, how does a lonely person, or anyone else for that matter, infuse meaning into his life? By living his life in the fear of God, obeying God’s commandments. Only then can he fit into the purposes of God, the Creator of this vast universe, and be a part of that eternal divine arrangement.
If God Is With You, You Are Never Alone
One faithful African Witness of Jehovah, after enduring terrible persecution and feeling abandoned, said that even if her human relationships failed, she was still not alone. She quoted Psalm 27:10: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.” Jesus felt the same way. “Look! The hour is coming, indeed, it has come, when you will be scattered each one to his own house and you will leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”—John 16:32.
Jesus was not afraid to be alone. He often sought solitude deliberately. When he was alone, he was not lonely. He opened himself to an inflowing of the spirit of God and felt close to Him when surrounded with His creations. At times he avoided the company of people so that he could be solely in the company of God. He ‘drew close to God; God drew close to him.’ (James 4:8) He was undoubtedly God’s closest friend.
A friend such as the Scriptures describe is a precious thing. (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24) Because of his absolute faith in Jehovah God and his unquestioning obedience to him, Abraham “came to be called ‘Jehovah’s friend.’” (James 2:23) Jesus said to his followers: “You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”—John 15:14, 15.
With friends like Jehovah God and Christ Jesus, how can those having faith fail to win their fight against loneliness?
[Pictures on page 8, 9]
Prayer and other activities can help you to avoid loneliness
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The experiences of Harold King and thousands of other Jehovah’s Witnesses in concentration camps demonstrate that faith in God can overcome loneliness under the worst of circumstances
U.S. National Archives photo