An Epidemic of Loneliness, Part One

This week, Dan Allender and Becky Allender kick off a three-part series engaging the crucial, complex issue of loneliness. They start by pointing to a staggering report from health services company Cigna, which highlights the widespread effects of loneliness in the U.S. and is part of a growing realization that something is profoundly wrong with how we are relating to each other.

Dan: “There is so much debris that comes with this topic—debris that affects our bodies, our relationships, and our relationship with God.”

Loneliness is not an experience that is exclusive to those who are obviously introverted or isolated. No matter what our relationship status is or how many friends we have, each of us experiences loneliness in at least one of these categories that Dan introduces: chronic, situational, intermittent, and existential.

Dan: “Loneliness is the very thing that God is working most deeply against in any intimate relationship.”

We’re talking about a kind of plague over our world. It’s pretty stunning.

Dan and Becky begin to wrestle with those different categories and the many ways that loneliness creeps in: the ache the comes in the wake of betrayal, after the anger fades; couples who experience deep, abiding loneliness even when they are together; the shame of repeated rejection, with the internalized message that we deserve to be lonely; the particular heartache of being single in a coupled world; existential loneliness that can even come in the midst of deep joy and connection, as part of us realizes this is not enough. This is just scratching the surface. Loneliness comes in so many ways and with so many disguises that it is impossible for any of us to not be affected.

Becky: “There is just that part of being human that is hard—it’s lonely.”

Becky and Dan also reflect on their own particular experiences of loneliness, which often shows up for each of them in different ways because of Dan’s work and travel schedule. They begin to wrestle with the ways they try to quiet loneliness, like getting lost in Netflix or social media and ending up momentarily distracted but not any less lonely. They also look at how loneliness often lead us to compare ourselves against other people’s lives, which almost always invites envy.That’s often the case for many of us: loneliness is a potent fuel for addiction,

Dan: “I think there are a lot of deeply, chronically lonely people who have learned in so many ways to mask that. […] And often the things we attempt to do to escape loneliness create more physical, relational, spiritual, existential loneliness.”

Next week, Dan and Becky will continue reflecting on the experience of marriage in their family as they focus more specifically on how these dynamics unfold in the midst of close, intimate relationships.