3 Tips for Coping with Today’s Biggest Threat to Mental Health

Loneliness is an even greater public health hazard than obesity.

In a world of exponentially increasing virtual connections, this reality is probably easier to forget than ever before. I, for one, am relearning it, thanks to a women’s group that meets weekly to study the spiritual disciplines. Those in-the-flesh conversations with other women from all walks of life are sacred opportunities to experience God in deeply refreshing ways. There is no virtual substitute.

 

Loneliness: It’s an even greater public health hazard than obesity. As perspective, obesity reportedly affects one in three Americans and is a leading cause of preventable death in this country. Loneliness’ impact is only expected to keep growing. So went the sobering conclusion of research presented in August 2017 at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

Research also shows that loneliness and social isolation are major contributors to addiction and other psychiatric disorders, recovery from which, we now know, largely entails supportive relationships of love and connection. That field (recovery) is one that I’ve come to inhabit as a writer covering addiction and mental health issues, and it’s one reason I’m so struck by these findings.

Another is that as a full-time writer, I spend much of my day alone. (Writing is a solitary exercise, after all.) So in recent years I’ve become more acquainted with the various dimensions of aloneness, from the welcome sounds of silence and a blissfully empty house to those times when loneliness seems my only, unwanted companion.

As Christians, how might we understand loneliness within the context of a relationship with Jesus? In the spirit of the 12 Steps, which encourages sharing with others what one most needs to learn, here are three biblically informed tips for coping with this biggest threat to mental and physical health:

  1. Loneliness is both a normal part of human experience and an opportunity to draw near to God. Perhaps nobody better exemplifies this than Jesus, who was fully human and fully God. At key moments in His life, Jesus had to feel lonely, by virtue of His mission. The nadir of that loneliness would have been the cross. Yet Jesus in that desolate place could still call out to God (Matthew 27:46), asking, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even in–or because of–His perfect sinlessness, Jesus apprehended how vast the separation between God and human beings and, consequently, how gaping the loneliness.

And Jesus gave full expression to this loneliness on the cross. There, instead of tuning out God, Jesus turned to God–with raw transparency. And, I suspect, the same spirit of raw transparency–the same unedited version of our loneliness, confusion, doubts, and weakness–is what God would rather have any day than our often empty and skin-deep words of praise and intercession. In this sense, too, loneliness can serve to nudge us toward God rather than away from Him.

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