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Following Jesus

Loneliness and Love in an Age of Isolation, Part I

August 20, 2019 by

In a 2017 report on loneliness, nine million people in Britain identified themselves as feeling seriously lonely. In response, Prime Minister Theresa May decided to appoint a minister for loneliness.

In our culture of connectivity, we are lonely and on our own.

Sadly, too many people don’t see the connection between their loneliness and their lives of untethered “nowhereness.” In a weird kind of logic, we remain under the illusion that the key to happiness lies in fiercely guarding the vision of the free, autonomous self. All the while, we feel increasingly empty and estranged from one another. It is a tragedy of mass proportions.

And this tragedy is playing itself out in some sad ways. Like in Bill Langlois’ life, where his new best friend is a cat named Sox – not a real cat, but an artifice on a tablet that keeps him company and listens to him. For Mr. Langlois, “She’s brought my life back to life.”

Sound crazy? Yes. But this craziness is the end result of our belief that we are most happy when we are most free – free of having to depend on others, free to express ourselves as we want, when we want, and free from anyone else who feels differently.

Sadly, the myth of the autonomous self is just that – a myth. And it is a dangerous myth, one that guts the self of everything good, leaving it but an empty shell floating on a sea of shifting, endless options. Such a life may be unrestrained, but it is also terribly lonely and aimless, obsessed with the masks that hide us from each other.

How, in the words of Dostoevsky, can we “draw men’s souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love”?

Our sense of loneliness, then, is not just an existential problem, but a systemic one. Dostoevsky noted over a hundred years ago that we live in an age that is radically split up in units: “[We] keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them.” In other words, we live in pieces, in fragments, lacking any steady, identifiable community in which to belong.

All this is reinforced by an economy that feeds off the twin idols of preference and desire, coupled with a social matrix that defines self-worth in terms of net-worth and our ability to project images of ourselves that capture the attention and approval of others.

In such a world the bonds of trust, which bring us out of our isolation and draw human hearts together, not only unravel but are mocked. Too often, self-interest trumps loyalty. Yet, with every broken relationship, with every rejection, with every fleeting, empty encounter, instead of personal growth we find ourselves retreating further and further into ourselves, shrinking behind barricades we perceive will keep us safe and secure. What we actually live in are incubators of despair. There is a reason why we too easily compromise: giving ourselves to people and to behaviors that make us feel good, at least for a while, but do not reflect our better selves.

What can we do? Is there no way to fight back? How, in the words of Dostoevsky, can we “draw men’s souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love”? What can catapult us out of our isolation? Lectures and pep talks, self-help gimmicks and high-priced weekend seminars won’t do. We have to dig deeper.

We must ask God to give us a new kind of hunger and thirst, not for personal fulfillment or the “good life,” but for a love that risks itself the way in which God in Christ risked himself.

In my own battle with loneliness, I have found that I have to start by being brutally honest with myself and to stand alone before God in repentance: “Lord, I’m not the person you made me to be, and I am to blame. I run my own show, on my own terms and yet hide behind a myriad of masks that cover my own sin and need. I don’t find my worth in you, Lord, but in transitory things and accomplishments that may look good to others but are not the fruit of love. I’m hurting, I’m lonely, but I know that this is partly because I stand aloof from others whom I judge, using them, instead of caring for them, in pursuit of my own personal agendas. Lord, I want to turn around and get outside of myself, so that those around me may truly feel loved. Lord, help me to come to an end, so that you and your will and your way may hold sway in this world.”

Apple tree backlit by the sun

We are not just victims of loneliness. If we are honest, we exacerbate our loneliness by isolating ourselves, and then think that the unencumbered life free of commitments or responsibilities is the surest way to happiness. We must acknowledge the fact that with our so-called freedom we make choices that divide us from within and from each other.

To admit this takes humility. It means recognizing how poor in spirit we actually are and then turning to God and allowing his love and forgiveness to re-create us. If we want to be free from our self-made cells of loneliness, we must come to God on a new basis and ask God to give us a new kind of hunger and thirst, not for personal fulfillment and what the world says is the “good life,” but for a love that risks itself the way in which God in Christ risked himself. If we let go of ourselves, then God can put his love into us and into others where there is an absence of love, comfort where there is anguish, peace where there is fear, companionship where there is abandonment. Then a true ministry for loneliness can be born.

This is part 1 in a series. Read part 2 here.


About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore and his wife Leslie live in Denver, CO, where they form a small house community with friends and visitors...

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  • This article touched my heart. Thank you for your voice and for the wisdom and the truth. I see God speaking through you and I am so grateful. My humblest wish is for many more people to be reached through the Bruderhof movement for this way Heaven will come to Earth x

    Kerry Pellow
  • Thank you for your article on loneliness, 20th Aug 19. you touch on the essence of my life, and made it so clear for me to see my failure. even in our churches there are many lonely people, and the church doe's not know how to heal the wounds. here in Wales there is a famine of Gods word Amos 8:11-12. I have prayed your prayer, may God in His mercy grant me and hope thank you Anita-Louise

    Anita-Louise Price