Loneliness: The Other Pandemic

It’s been over 10 months since the world was thrown into a global pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in over a century. Two million people have died as fear continues to rage through our society, and a cough in a public place can earn you a dirty look. But, along with the obvious pandemic that has dominated so much of our lives- the one with masks and vaccines and ventilators and politics- there is another pandemic destroying our country and our world, although much more subtly- the pandemic of loneliness.

Why is being with other people such a big deal? On the outside it looks like just two or more humans sharing the same space, maybe shooting the breeze about the last book they read. Maybe it’s engaging in a deep philosophical or spiritual discussion, healing old wounds and feeling heard for the first time, or laughing with each other and finding a little bit of joy. But this experience of connection is woven into the fabric of what it means to be human. It is essential to our sanity, and without it, we get sick in more ways than one.

As image bearers of God, we were made and formed out of the most perfect relationship. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing and connecting continually in perfect harmony. God put this stamp on all our hearts- that we would desire relationship, grow and heal through it, and ultimately be lost without it. He gave us each other in all of our brokenness so we could experience a little bit of Heaven on earth. We commune with each other as a snapshot of our coming communion with Him. It is so beautiful.

It makes sense why we crave connection so deeply and why we come unglued in isolation. It’s why Holden Caulfield searches New York City all night for someone to have a drink with him, why Sylvia Plath dedicates an entire novel to the subject, and why Tom Hanks draws a face on a volleyball. Without relationship and connection, we don’t just “get along fine,” we slowly decay. We turn to sex, alcohol, food, self-harm, and the dreaded social media. We just don’t work the way we were meant to.

So what is the answer? I’m not a scientist, and I honestly don’t know the solution. There is still a virus pandemic out there with various opinions on how it should be handled and what we should do. I am a therapist though, and more importantly a human in need of love and connection. So here’s what I say- Do what you have to do to make real connections with people. Wear a mask and sit in a park with someone. Share a meal. Sit on a front porch with someone you love. Have a long phone call. And if the stars align and you dare to be bold, ask to give someone a quick hug. Because as utterly terrible as it is to watch people suffer physically, we cannot forget all of the millions who are suffering emotionally.

I will end with a word of encouragement. The first is from Jesus (Matthew 18:20)-“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” God promises to be present with us in our isolation, but it’s when we are joined together in His name that we feel His presence all the more richly. It’s such a precious gift He gives.

The second is from The Beatles and a song which once captivated the world and still stands as one of the greatest songs ever written- “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” So simple, but with this line, John and Paul captured in the purest simplicity what we all really want. Love, connection, intimacy, understanding, touch, communion, a hand to hold.

Let us be bold to seek that connection and give love to those who feel so isolated. Let us pray and not lose hope. For we will all be together again soon.

Michelle Hitchcock