At Christmas, it is often mentioned that the holidays are a torment for people who do not have or cannot visit family. Some people experience Christmas in loneliness and despair. My answer to this problem is the same answer I give for almost everything: go to church!
The extent of our loneliness
Our country is currently experiencing two epidemics: COVID and loneliness. Already in 2018, a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Economist showed that 22% of adults in the United States reported feeling lonely, excluded, isolated, or lacking companionship.
The problem is not just American. A 2019 Cigna survey found that 46-47% of Americans and Brits felt lonely and excluded. Many have said that their only companion is the television or a pet.
In addition, in Japan, half of people under the age of 40 sometimes have no human interaction for six months. More than a quarter of Canadian households and a third of households in the European Union are single.
As astonishing as these statistics are, since the pandemic the problem of loneliness and isolation has worsened considerably.
There are many cultural changes that have caused so many people to live alone or to feel lonely. Social networks are one of them. Designed for better communication, it has instead made us a nation of people who can sit side by side looking at our phones without speaking to each other.
Polarization is another. Unfortunately, people think that they should “lose interest” in those whose political positions are too different from theirs. Thus, the circle becomes smaller.
Another reason is the disintegration of family life. People marry later in life or not at all. The high divorce rate leaves many people alone. The low birth rate leads to the loneliness of many only children.
Friendship is a basic human desire, a need. The family is an essential social structure. So, loneliness is painful and can lead to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and hallucinations.
There are also physical consequences. Loneliness triggers cellular changes leading to inflammation, heart disease, stroke, metastatic cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Single people have a 26% higher death rate; people living alone have a 32% higher risk of death.
The rising suicide rate, especially among adolescents and young adults, is also an indicator of the deadly consequences of loneliness. Young people see loneliness as their main fear before losing a house or a job, obviously for good reason.
We are a society in which people often find themselves without someone to lean on in difficult times. Alone, it’s easy to fall into despair and think that suicide is the only way to end the pain.
Why are we doing this to each other? If you have few or no friends, or if you are far from your family, who will you turn to when you need them? And the Church?
Much of the problem is a culture that has abandoned religion. Although religion is criticized as providing false comfort (Karl Marx called religion “the opiate for the masses”), it is, in fact, a real source of comfort.
It does not mean: “There, there, now. Just say your prayers and you’ll be fine. Religion is not an empty platitude designed to keep the masses at peace. Religion gives people hope and encourages them to love one another.
However, we cannot love and be the keeper of each other if we do not interact. As Pope Francis said in his Christmas address:
“Our capacity for social relations is severely tested; there is a growing tendency to withdraw, to do everything on your own, to stop making an effort to meet others and do things together, ”the Pope said. https://www.wsj.com/articles/pope-francis-in-christmas-message-laments-pandemic-of-loneliness-11640431162
He also tweeted: “Loneliness is not overcome by closing in on ourselves, but by crying out to the Lord, for the Lord hears the cry of those who find themselves alone.”
Exactly right. We are never alone because God is always with us. The closer we have to God, the closer we will be to everyone else because divine love directs us to others.
Go to church to improve your interaction with God and those around you. You cannot despair when you surround yourself with the love and hope that are in our Catholic Church, if you accept it.
Go to church and volunteer with a church organization. By attending to the needs of others, you will alleviate your own needs.
Go to church and you won’t be alone anymore.