Sometimes we feel the most alone when we are in the middle of other people.
My heart goes out to students who come to school feeling the pain of loneliness or social anxiety. I remember how self-conscious, isolated, and disconnected I felt at times, especially when I was the new kid. Social anxiety and loneliness were often at their worst going to meals, meetings, or events. In college, I often skipped meals to avoid eating alone. And eating is one of my favorite things to do!
Lonely people are everywhere: in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and even our churches and families.
One of the main characteristics of Jesus was His compassion for the hurting. Lonely people are hurting. Compassion for the lonely doesn’t take a lot of expertise or training. You don’t need seminary or clinical training to reach out to a lonely person. Lonely people don’t want to be fixed. They don’t need professional help. They just want to connect to someone and their fear or lack of social skills isolate them.
There are many ways to make a difference to someone who is lonely, but it starts with having a heart like Jesus. Ultimately our goal is to help people see that they are noticed, valued, and loved. There is power in a genuine smile to help someone feel noticed. Asking a question and really listening can help someone feel valued. Inviting someone to sit with you at a meal, a meeting, or at church may help them fell like some cares about them.
Even in my 50’s, I remember students and teachers who were kind to me when I was a new, lonely student. I remember people who introduced themselves and showed me around new churches I attended. Even if they didn’t know it, they acted like Jesus to me. They helped someone who was hurting.
I am grateful for the people who reached out to me when I was lonely. I hope I can be bold enough to do for someone what they did for me.