Two years before COVID-19 put “social distancing” and “working remotely” into our everyday vocabulary, healthcare company CIGNA published a report about an epidemic plaguing the country: being lonely. The pandemic has deepened that loneliness and brought profound losses in jobs, health, and lives.
And now we are still longing, it seems, for dashed dreams to come true. The defining question of our time has crystallized: Do you know how to handle loss, loneliness, and longing? Start by considering each of these challenges and how they are connected.
What CIGNA uncovered is troubling. Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone and/or left out. Only around half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions every day. Generation Z (ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation. This reminds us that our health is not just physical and our tech is not able to keep us truly connected. Loneliness is not just about physical proximity; it’s about emotional connection.
I was speaking with a friend of 25 years recently who just sold a multigenerational family business. He’s grateful for the sale, but now grieving a loss—not the business, but his marriage. He and his wife are now living at home in separate rooms. He said being lonely is so hard, even though he has someone under the same roof, that “I don’t think I could go on without talking to friends like you.”
I can assure you that there are millions, maybe tens of millions of people, maybe even people under our own roofs who are struggling with loneliness.
The specific kind of loss I’m referring to is either losing something precious to you or never getting something you had hoped would be yours. Maybe your spouse is distant after years of feeling close or you desired a deep connection with your spouse but it never happened. Maybe you once had a vibrant relationship with your children but now they barely speak to you. Or maybe you hoped for an authentic relationship with your child but it never happened. Maybe you had a job you loved but lost it or you hoped for a specific job or career but it never happened. Or maybe you married the spouse of your dreams but now divorce is underway, or you waited for the spouse of your dreams but he or she never appeared.
Loss is closely connected to loneliness and sometimes is its catalyst. As my friend lost the companionship of his wife, loneliness followed. Even a temporary loss of connection with our kids or intimacy with a spouse can make us feel isolated, excluded, and separated from those we love. We may begin to believe no one understands or cares what we go through. We think no one understands our pain, even if they try.
We have experienced loss. We’re lonely. And, we long for what we lost—what should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve been. This isn’t how things were supposed to be. We had written a life story in our minds. We thought we knew what it was going to look like. We had written the career chapter. We had a financial plan. We even wrote a chapter about the spouse we one day would have. Now some of those pages are torn up.
What’s going to lift me out of this loss and loneliness? Who’s going to fill this longing in my heart? Who is going to write the next chapter? What can I do? You can take these six steps.
- Hand your script over to God. Trust Him in all things. He is in control. We have to turn authorship of our stories over to God and embrace our roles as loved participants in His story.
- Acknowledge and grieve your loss. It’s not about moving past losses but about moving through them. It’s OK to grieve for a time.
- Put your loss in perspective. Your present pain can feel insurmountable. Try to see a bigger picture that leaves room for a better story than you think possible.
- Recognize God’s presence in your life and remember His promises. God loves you and is with you, and, when you truly love Him and are called according to His purpose, He promises to work all things, even loss, together for your good. He excels at turning loss into gain.
- Embrace the life God has given you. Accepting “what is” expresses trust in God’s mercy for what’s already happened and expresses trust in His providence in what hasn’t happened yet.
- Dream again. Study God’s Word and look ahead to whatever God has in store for you next.
And God does have plans for you. He has plans to give you hope and a future.
Sound off: What do you recommend for how to handle loss, loneliness, or longing?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you normally do when you are feeling sad?”