According to the journalist Johann Hari in the book, Lost Connections, researchers have concluded, “humans need tribes as much as a bee needs a hive” (pg. 77). When a bee loses its hive, it goes “haywire” (pg. 90). When humans lose connection with other humans, we place our selves at great risk of experiencing difficult consequences. The neuroscience researcher, John Cacioppo, has evidenced through years of research that loneliness is heavily influencing a significant amount of depression and anxiety in our society. Another researcher, Robert Putnam, in documenting social-relational trends for many decades found that many years ago when people were asked about the number of confidants they had, the number was three. By 2004, the most common answer was none. Other studies have pointed to a crisis of loneliness in America, while we are more in contact with each other than ever before. But contact is not equal to connection.
Feeling lonely is not an illness, a curse of creation, or a judgment upon one’s makeup.
It is a gift that calls us into relationship, with all of its benefits and worthwhile difficulties. Our capability to “succeed” in our culture while being able to distract ourselves from how we are created, allows us to distract our selves from facing and experiencing our lives. We can distract ourselves to the point that we can lose the connection that makes us vibrant humans, i.e., relationship. Our “success” has become our problem.
While the causes of our disconnection through distraction are multilayered, how we are created, ironically, is not one of the causes. Though painful, loneliness is meant to push us to need each other. The neuroscientists are now proving what the poets and wisdom seekers of our pasts have been telling us for centuries. As John Donne wrote in 1624, “No man is an island/Entire of itself . . . /Because I am involved in mankind” (Devotions upon Emergent Occasions). Solomon, almost 700 years earlier, wrote about the blessing of relationship in a confusing world: “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But have compassion on anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
You and I are created as emotional and spiritual creatures, created to do one thing—live fully. But we cannot do so without living fully in relationship with ourselves, others, and God. Loneliness, as well as seven other feelings I write about in The Voice of the Heart, is a tool that we have been given to allow us to live fully in a tragic place. Loneliness speaks to how we are created for relationship. It is in us to move us to intimacy, or “into-me-see.” Loneliness is a pain that calls us into facing and feeling our need of each other and God. I am created to use my thinking to express my heart, to be known and to know others’ hearts, and to experience the heart of God. I need to face and feel “into me,” and make room to share my own heart and listen to others’ hearts. Intimacy is a well-being connection for the mind, the body, and especially where it originates, the heart.
The distraction from our pain increases it. Numbing our condition worsens it. Running from how we are created multiplies our confusion and denial. It can leave us profoundly isolated from how we are created. Loneliness is a call to live truthfully with each other. We are not created to live intimately with everyone, of course. But living without intimacy with “none” will exact a cost that we cannot afford to pay. No one is an island. The beginning of intimacy starts with that admission.