Christians should lead the way in helping the lonely:
The world is full of lonely people. They can be young and old, and there would be plenty of reasons for their loneliness. A teenager may have broken up with his girlfriend, leaving her distraught and very lonely. Or a marriage of over 41 years can end when your wife dies of cancer, as was my case.
Obviously, plenty of books, songs, poems, and films deal with this theme. Just two well-known songs from pop culture can be mentioned here. In 1961 Roy Orbison sang “Only the Lonely”. And in 1974 America had the hit song, “Lonely People.”
How we cope with loneliness matters. And how others try to help the lonely can make a big difference. This of course is where the churches should be leading the way. Pastoral care is part of this. When a church member is not seen for a while, it is hoped that someone from the pastoral staff – or even just a volunteer – will check up on them and see what is happening.
It is just too easy – certainly in the larger churches – for people to simply slip through the cracks. A person can be gone from church for quite a while, but they can easily be overlooked or forgotten. Yes, the theory is that small groups in the church are meant to cover some of this, but many folks are NOT in such small groups.
There are just too many folks who either have no immediate family members, or who are often friendless, and when they get into strive of any sort, they can disappear, and few will know about it – or care. Again, the churches should be at the forefront of such matters, but often this is not the case.
I write all this because of a news item I just recently saw. Although it is dated from last year, it is quite telling. It seems that one supermarket chain in the Netherlands has taken steps to help out with the lonely. It is part of a government program, and it sounds quite interesting. The whole article is quite short, so let me offer it in full. It says this:
Loneliness has no geographical boundaries and is one of the main issues that affects senior citizens around the world, especially in urban settings where everything is fast paced and increasingly digitized. But a Dutch company came up with an idea to combat this from a very common front: the grocery store checkout. Jumbo, a Netherlands-based supermarket chain with over 700 stores, introduced a Kletskassa, which translates to “chat checkout,” a special lane for customers who are not in a rush and could use a little talk with the cashier.
Jumbo introduced these “slow lanes” back in summer 2019 as part of a wider initiative called One Against Loneliness, launched by the Dutch government. According to Statistics Netherlands, 1.3 million people in the Netherlands are over 75, and 33% have reported feeling at least moderately lonely. The first Kletskassa opened in the town of Vlijmen, in the province of North Brabant. The response was so positive that the company made plans to create 200 of these lanes across the country. On top of that, Jumbo stores also introduced a “chat corner,” where local residents can gather for a cup of coffee and a little conversation.
“Many people, the elderly in particular, can feel lonely. As a family business and supermarket chain we have a central role in society. Our shops are a meeting place and that means we can do something to combat loneliness. The Kletskassa is just one of the things we can do,” said Jumbo CCO Colette Cloosterman-Van Eerd. “We are proud our staff want to work the chat checkout. They really want to help people and make contact with them. It’s a small gesture but it’s a valuable one, particularly in a world that is becoming more digital and faster.”
The best part of the Kletskassa is that it’s not exclusive for senior citizens, and anyone whose day could improve by taking it slow and having a little chat is welcome. https://lavocedinewyork.com/en/lifestyles/2023/01/24/dutch-market-introduces-a-chat-checkout-lane-for-seniors-to-combat-loneliness/
This is a great initiative, with life today in the West being so fast-paced and impersonal. We speak of being part of a rat race, but I suspect that even rats might not want things to be so frenetic and socially isolating. We are made for community, and God intends for us to have healthy relationships with others.
But the question keeps arising: where are the churches in all this? We know that over the past few centuries secular governments have increasingly taken over and usurped the roles that churches formerly played. Everything from education to welfare to community services are more and more becoming the domain of the state.
There is a place for that of course, but much better a caring person with a face to help those in need than some faceless bureaucrat in a government office. As to the head of Jumbo, I know nothing about him. Might he be a Christian? Perhaps.
But my basic point remains: There are countless people out there who are quite lonely. Some will deal with this in the wrong way, as in turning to drink or drugs, or even committing suicide. Governments can and do provide some services for this. There can be a place for that.
But caring Christians who are part of caring Christian communities really should be the ones who are known for this. A few years ago Joe Carter penned a piece on loneliness. His concluding paragraphs are worth closing my piece with:
Is loneliness discussed in the Bible?
Because loneliness is part of the human condition, it is not surprising that several persons in the Bible experienced loneliness. In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah appears to have suffered from a sense of social isolation that made him almost suicidal. Paul likely experienced loneliness, as when he tells Timothy, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me” (1 Tim. 4:16). Jesus also appears to have been experiencing loneliness in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion (Matt. 26:36-46) and while on the cross (Matt. 27:46).
David also expressed his feelings of loneliness in the Psalms. In Psalm 25:16 he says, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted,” and in Psalm 142:4 he says, “Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.”
What can Christians do about loneliness?
Remember you have a friend in Jesus — In Ephesians 2:14-17, Paul says, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Never forget that you have a friend in Jesus (John 15:15), and that the Spirit dwells within you to give you strength to handle this season of loneliness
“It would be cruel to suggest that human friendship is irrelevant once one has befriended by Christ,” Dane Ortlund writes in Gentle and Lowly. “God has made us for fellowship, for union on heart, with other people. Everyone gets lonely—including introverts.”
“But Christ’s heart for us means that he will be our never-failing friend no matter what friends we do or do not enjoy on earth,” Ortlund adds. “He offers us friendship that gets underneath the pain of our loneliness. While that pain does not go away, its sting is made fully bearable by the far deeper friendship of Jesus.”
Find your family — Psalms 68:6 tells us, “God sets the lonely in families” (NIV). If you’re a follower of Christ, God has set you “with God’s people and also members of his household” (Eph. 2:19). Because of your union with Christ, you are spiritually connected to a family of brothers and sisters who will love you and be with you for all eternity. Find your family by embedding yourself in a community of believers.
Reach out — If you feel lonely, reach out to those around you and let them know. If you suspect someone you know is lonely reach out to them and let them know you want to help. Don’t put it off or make excuses about why you don’t have the time, ability, or attention. When people are in need, Christians should be rushing to help for we are called by Jesus to love our neighbor.
“This love means not treating someone like a problem just because they have a problem,” Isaac Adams says. “This love means putting other people’s desires before our own. This love means going through trouble if it means getting our neighbor out of trouble.” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-what-christians-should-know-about-loneliness/