Over the years, we have witnessed how our lives have become increasingly diverse and sophisticated, particularly with the evolution of technology and ideas. What once was unpaved, untilled earth now blooms with concrete walls, vast and complex roads, and tall structures that seem to kiss the sky. What once was silent and serene, overshadowed only by chirping birds, the song of the trees swaying in the wind, and the sound of crickets in the night sky, is now buzzing with endless noise brought about by vehicles, busy bodies and intelligent minds. Human society has forever changed the face of the earth. Yet, in spite of the legacy of man reaching for the pinnacle of his dreams, human society can still be a very lonely place.
Hitomi is one of the residents of a manboo in Tokyo, Japan. A manboo is a 4 square meter box with a screen and a computer, and is the Japanese equivalent of an internet café. She lived in the manboo for two months while a documentary entitled, “Lost in Manboo” was filmed by 99.media. Her story depicts the sad reality that even with all of the grandiosity of the human world and its inhabitants, loneliness is as real and as present as the very air we breathe.
“I don’t like being all alone, but I want to have my own space. My parents never did pay attention to me. It took them too much time taking care of my brother and sister. When I was 16, my parents figured I was an adult and started working. I have fragile health and wasn’t supposed to live long. I wanted to live and reach 20. But since I am older now, I feel a bit lost. I don’t have a goal anymore, to find a reason to live. I let life carry me along”.
Hitomi’s eyes are filled with sadness and loneliness as those words escape her fragile lips.
De Jong Gierveld and Havens (2004, cited in Shankar, 2017) claimed that loneliness refers to the dissatisfaction with one’s personal relationships and is often referred to as “perceived social isolation”. This can be distinguished from “objective” isolation, such as living arrangements, social contact or social engagement. Accordingly, feelings of loneliness involve a subjective evaluation that is related to a person’s expectations of and satisfaction with the frequency and the closeness of contacts, which means that it is possible to be socially connected, yet still experience feelings of loneliness. This determines the difference between being alone and being lonely. One can be alone without being lonely, and one can be lonely in a crowded room.
While loneliness has been explained and studied extensively through modern research, loneliness is not something new. In this world, where we wander across open oceans of idealism, hope and despair, principalities and powers, we will always have God’s Word to rely on (Ephesians 6: 10-17). In the Old Testament, the word “loneliness” was originally written in Hebrew as badad (which means isolated, separated, apart and alone) or yahid (which means solitary, isolated, and lonely).
The word badad was used in Genesis 2:18, where God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” and thus created a suitable helper for Adam to be both his helper and friend (Genesis 2: 20-22). This early depiction of the importance of companionship and relationship is often summarized in the common phrase “No man is an island”. God created us as social and relational beings, so it is God-given for man to desire for love, belonging, relating, companionship, acceptance and friendship with other men and God.
Studies have shown that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic diseases and dementia, as well as a higher mortality rate. A poor cardiovascular profile, compromised immune functioning and risky health behaviors are potential pathways by which loneliness may affect the health of an individual (Shankar, 2017). This proves how disastrous loneliness can truly be, as experiencing loneliness means going against our very own nature, which God describes as “not good”.
Yahid was first mentioned in Psalm 25:16 (“I am lonely and afflicted”) when David the king of Israel experienced the greatest despair of his life. His own son Absalom has risen up against him, his men went after him, and he was forced to flee from his own city and leave his family behind. In his despair and loneliness, David turned to God for help and pleaded for mercy. Like David, when all seems lost and hopeless, we can be sure that there will always be someone on whom we can rely. Though we may feel lonely, understand that we are never truly alone, for God has said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5) and the truth will set you free (John 8: 32).
There can be multiple causes of loneliness, depending on the circumstances a person is in, but whatever those circumstances may be, there is nothing more consoling than the truth that God cares for our well-being. Our God is not a distant God. He is a God who cares, who loves, and who protects His people. He is the God who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others in any trouble with the comfort that we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4). He is a friend to the broken hearted (Psalm 34: 18) and someone who lays down His life for His friends (John 15: 13-15).
If you are feeling lonely, take time to commune with your God, for He is the God who listens (1 John 5:15). Confess your sins (1 John 1: 9), forgive others, and forgive yourself (Colossians 3: 13). Forgiveness and communication with God and your loved ones can be the key in venturing from darkness into the light. After all, it is we who are hurt the most when we forget to forgive.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”