So began Roy Orbison’s 1960 rock ballad which propelled the previously unknown singer to sudden fame. Orbison’s song struck a psychological note with many people, although it referred only to a limited kind of loneliness – that experienced by someone cut off from a romantic relationship. Ultimate loneliness, of course, is experienced by those who have lost most or even all of their friendships and relationships. For many people, that kind of loneliness can be psychologically devastating.
Interestingly, the Bible has something to say about the lonely of this world – but far less than you probably expect. The word “lonely” only appears a few times in the Old Testament and does not appear in the New Testament at all relative to people – only “lonely” places! This is probably because in the society of biblical times people lived in more tightly knit extended families, and loneliness was far less common. We can see this in one of the few scriptures in the Bible that does mention loneliness. When King David wrote “God sets the lonely in families …” (Psalm 68:6), he does not say that God gives the lonely new friends, but sets them back in a family setting where loneliness is not an issue.
Today, especially in the Western world, where children commonly move away from their homes as they get older, individuals of both the younger and older generations are much more likely to experience loneliness. Psychological and medical studies have shown that under these circumstances loneliness can become a severe psychological discomfort affecting not only happiness, but also health and even life expectancy.
The problem is compounded because loneliness is often difficult to diagnose or for others to recognize. We soon become aware if our neighbors are injured or ill, but even extreme loneliness may not be noticed by others, especially because lonely people often keep to themselves and may even hide their loneliness because of pride or other factors.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to reach out to the lonely just as we have a responsibility toward those who are hurting in any other way. The psalmist’s comment that “God sets the lonely in families…” needs individuals and families who are willing to make that possible. We can be the family that God wishes to use by inviting a lonely neighbor to dinner occasionally, stopping by to see if an aged neighbor needs help with anything, including widowed neighbors in home Bible study invitations, or in many other ways.
But we should also remember that any lonely neighbors we may have are only the tip of the iceberg of loneliness. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world suffer loneliness because they are rejected and cut off from their own families because of their faith. Others suffer extreme loneliness in situations where they are imprisoned for their beliefs and cut off from all meaningful fellowship or friendship.
It is probably true that only the lonely can fully understand the extent of the problem of loneliness, but through any action we can accomplish and through prayer we can set the lonely in families they otherwise would not have.