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Only The Lonely

In 1960, Roy Orbison marketed the hit recording entitled 'Only the Lonely.' It began with the words, "Only the lonely know the way I feel."

Loneliness is a pandemic we have with us perpetually. There is no vaccine for it. Despite the social media explosion, 30% of Canadians (StatsCan) suffer from extreme loneliness in an increasingly 'depersonalized' world. In the Christian community, 1 in 5 say they experience severe feelings of loneliness (Christianity Today). In research done by the Barna Research Group, it was discovered that up to 42% of pastors in Protestant churches contemplate leaving the ministry, and 43% attribute their decision to loneliness and isolation. There is no poll of which I am aware that measures the loneliness of spouses in ministry.

It has been the goal of the ABNWT Resource Centre to defy that alarming statistic among our ministry family. The sense of belonging and inclusion, the opportunity for everyone to have a voice, share dreams, and receive support to carry those dreams forward, is extremely important to us. We really do need each other.

Only The Lonely Know How I Feel - Why Are Leaders Often Among The Loneliest People?

Leadership naturally involves a certain degree of aloneness. Effective leaders are a pace ahead of others. It is impossible to be an innovative, entrepreneurial leader and remain satisfied with the 'status quo.' Entrepreneurship often includes seasons of loneliness, misunderstanding, and even opposition. It is neither unique nor unspiritual to feel lonely at times.

Loneliness is sometimes associated with shame. The 'imposter syndrome' afflicts many in pastoral leadership and other forms of ministry. There is a personal belief that they are underqualified and undeserving of their role. The bi-line running through their mind is this, "If people really knew who I am and the qualities I lack, they would never tolerate me as their leader." This is far more common than realized, and it leads to creating and living behind a false image established to convince others of our worth.

Loneliness can be accentuated by personality type. The melancholic and phlegmatic personality types tend more to introversion and, subsequently, to isolation. However, the one trait common to all personality types is the need to belong. The volume of social interaction is not the measuring stick. It is the quality of the social interaction one has. Is it authentic? Does it address the need for encouragement and affirmation each of us has?

Loneliness can be the result of the cover-up of some form of addictive behaviour. A cover-up is often the default behaviour when a leader's ethical or moral life is out of kilter. Cover-up necessitates emotional isolation. This, in turn, leads to loneliness. Great leaders who have fallen from grace and are exposed have a common admission. They were very lonely. Unexposed sin precludes loneliness.

Loneliness is often the result of loss or separation through divorce, death or declining health and mobility. Any major shock to the regular, established pattern of life can create a sense of detachment and displacement. The traumatic 'firsts' that must be faced alone after loss, the changing nature of social relationships post-loss, and the re-alignment of the lifestyle all add to this dis-equilibration. Social instability can lead to extreme loneliness.

Only The Lonely Know How I Feel. What Are Some Simple 'Helps' For Me?

Fight the urge to turtle. Conflict, change, and circumstances of loss can often drive us deeper inside ourselves. We may suffer accusation, innuendo, or opposition. We may be forced into unwanted changes in our circumstances by life's unpredictability. Whatever drives us into ourselves, the deeper we retreat, the more intense the loneliness becomes. In these difficult moments of life, we need to have a trusted friend who does not need to solve the issues or even understand our feelings but is present to walk through them with us. We need to fight the urge to isolate.

Lean into the encroaching darkness. My good friend Bill Donnelly, who lost his wife to ALS, found that when the darkness of depression threatened to overwhelm him, he had to 'lean into it.' He could not be 'passive' and survive. It was a determined struggle that saw him through his loneliness. He did not deny the intensity of his feelings but denied them the authority to control his future. Intentionally, he assigned himself to activities that would push back against these feelings. His agenda included 'GriefShare,' enrollment in University Courses, and attachment to a men's prayer group.

Find a trusted accountability partner. Everyone needs at least one person who will be quick to hear, slow to speak and genuinely concerned about them. The best way to ensure that you have such a person in your lonely times is to offer yourself as such a person to others when you have the emotional capital to do so. I regularly encounter individuals who are gracious and generous, and helpful to others. In their times of desperation, they are amazed at the number of people who come to their assistance. What a person sows, they reap. In the good times, cultivate those friendships that will be your comfort in the bad times and single out one or two trusted people who will never give up on you.

Start a support group for lonely people. Lonely? There are hundreds more like you in your community. A gentleman in California tried an experiment a few years ago. He advertised his availability to listen to people on the telephone for one-half hour. He would not try to solve their problem or offer counsel or comment on what he was hearing. It would cost the participant 20 dollars for the time he spent. This wise entrepreneur was unable to accommodate all the calls he received. Many lonely people would welcome being included in a non-judgmental, friendly support group to share life over coffee or tea or discuss a good book. As well as developing this idea as a program for your Church, if you personally are lonely, it would be advantageous to make this a program for your life.

Personally reach out to new Canadians and refugees. The tens of thousands of new Canadians are one of the loneliest segments of Canadian society. Many of these people have been uprooted, displaced and impoverished by the circumstances they left behind. They know nothing of Canadian culture, struggle with the language, and feel excluded. Over one million such people arrived in Canada in 2022. Offering friendship to these new arrivals will alleviate your loneliness and expand your knowledge of our cultures.

Let Jesus into your loneliness. If anyone understands loneliness, it is Jesus. His presence can buoy the lonely, broken heart and dispel the gloomy clouds that threaten to overwhelm it. Turn idle time into Jesus' time. The hymn writer caught the idea well: 'No one understands like Jesus; He's a friend beyond compare. Meet Him at the throne of mercy. He is waiting for you there.'

Reach out to someone in your ministry sphere (Denominational Leaders or Coaches). They are ready and more than willing to connect with you and provide you with fellowship and support for your journey. The leadership role is far too difficult to attempt on your own. That's why Moses had Aaron and Hur. Only with their active involvement was he operating at his leadership best. At one time or another, all of us will need Aarons and Hurs to help hold up our hands in battle. They are here for you.

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