Spirituality can be an effective coping mechanism for people who deal with almost any issue – depression, anxiety, phobias, chronic illness, terminal illness, issues with parents or kids, and basically any trauma or stress. Loneliness is no exception to this, and for the last two thousand or so years, Christianity in particular has created in society a community that provides purpose and meaning much like Judaism before that. Cacioppo, the psychologist we have been referring to throughout this series, sees spirituality as just that – a “noble attempt” for humans who are trying to fulfill a “compelling need” (Cacioppo 260). But no more than that. He compares our need for relationship with God to relationships with pets and friends found online, and says that churches provide “one-stop shopping for human connection in many different forms” (254). They have gyms, counselors, playgrounds, and some even have coffee shops. Church is well-marketed.
I find it very interesting that, in his entire well-researched book on loneliness, Cacioppo chooses to end with a chapter addressing why Christianity works better than other religions for becoming less lonely, and proceeds to argue that Christianity is for the “insecure” (258). The last few paragraphs in the book do not deal with loneliness, but in endeavoring to move us away from spirituality toward tangible relationships. He ends with one quote from C.S. Lewis, an atheist-turned creationist, about how we can’t survive without other people, then one quote from E.O. Wilson, a Darwinian atheist, about how we feel a deep need to be more than “dust”.
I write this side because it’s important for us to not be close-minded about anything. I could ignore the parts of books that I disagree with or don’t like, but I’ve thought about his ending as much as I’ve thought about the rest of his book and the others that I’ve read in the past six months. It’s important to address. And if I am going to write a post about finding the “upper” person – a higher spiritual being, then I can’t go about it blindly. And I don’t want to blind you. So I re-read the last bit, put myself in the mindset of the writer and saw the text (the best I could from a reader’s standpoint) as a critic. I do, after all, have a degree in English from a liberal arts university. 😉 And I’m happy to write a review for you. But here is my point: We all have to figure out if there is or is not a higher power out there. We can’t be scared of people that don’t believe. Facts are important because they are facts, just like everyone’s opinion is their truth. You can argue about what that means or not, but to me it means that what people believe is deep and true for them – a part of who they are. So we can’t go stomping on it or yelling at them that they are wrong.
I, personally, believe there is a God. I believe that Jesus in the son of God. I believe that there is this thing called the Holy Spirit that is the voice of God inside of me – and that “spirit” is the best argument I have for knowing that God is real because he speaks to me. I, personally, don’t hear pets talk to me and I don’t pretend that online friends say things that they don’t say. But when I hear the voice of God/Jesus/Spirit inside me, I know that he is real. I find the “upper” person by speaking to him and listening to him.
Because I believe in Jesus, I believe in the New Testament, which says that “no one comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6, TNIV). Jesus made a way for imperfect people to make their way to a perfect God. But, I’m not about to go tell people I haven’t built a relationship with that they are going to hell when they die. I’m not God, and I don’t have that right, though I can sit down with someone I have actually spent time with and tell them what I believe. I should, in fact, do that. And I can listen to what they believe with respect and love rather than with defensive condemnation.
In college, I had a group of friends that would go to the mall and tell random people they were going to hell. And I was severely, severely uncomfortable with this, so I couldn’t physically go. I made myself sick with worry. As a wee little freshmen, I thought that I was a coward, but the truth was that the good Spirit inside of me, which is full of love and grace, doesn’t like when we act superior to others in the name of Jesus. He was and is humble and gracious and kind. Yes, he knew that he was the only way to heaven. But the only time I remember him being condescending was to the pious Pharisees and Sadducees – religious nuts who looked down on everyone else – like my friends in the mall. They took joy in telling people they were going to hell. And they sought glory when and if someone prayed a prayer with them. That’s not what it’s about. They never saw those people again.
I might be making some Christians angry here. That’s okay with me. I have peace within myself on what God thinks, and I hope that you will pray and ask him. If you get a different answer, you can let me know and I’ll listen. I’m sure there are scenarios where the Spirit tells you to walk up to a stranger and talk to them, and that’s good. I think it’s just about listening to God’s voice inside you – his voice rather than the often negative voice of ourselves.
But I can tell you that I have, personally, never felt more alone than the times I acted like a pious Christian. I felt gross and dirty. Worthlessness crept over my skin and lied to me. I had this anxiety crawling down deep inside of me, eating me up from the inside out. I thought at times that it was God’s spirit making me feel bad. But God’s spirit is peace, so that never made sense. It only caused more questions – more confusion. When I stopped trying to act like I was better than everyone and gave way to the comfort of God’s voice, the pain stopped and I was able to accept myself as a human covered in mercy.
Honestly, the most horrible, up-tight people I have ever met have been self-righteous Christians. There is no peace in that. There is only loneliness and frustration.
I find peace when I am near to God. I am least lonely when I know in the deepest parts of me that he is my best friend – the one who will never leave me, the one who doesn’t forget my name, who wants to hear my thoughts, who goes with me everywhere, who sees me where I am. He sees me crying on my bed when no one else is around. He knows how I feel when I am lonely. He knows what it’s like to feel alone in a crowd of people. I have to sit and spend time with him – because I want to. And when I do sit with him, peace comes. And peace stays.
You can create an imaginary friend and believe the same things about them – you know, if you don’t believe that there is a higher force up there. It’ll still help you in your loneliness, but like Cacioppo says, real people will help you more. But if you can figure out who is up there, there is a pretty great peace to be found. There is a great remedy for loneliness.
Surviving loneliness is a balance that comes down to this: 1) being okay with myself, 2) being in deep relationships with others, and 3) being at peace in the soul/spirit level. The third is the most crucial in my life. Which is why I can’t stop talking about God in any of these posts. It wasn’t on purpose. I tried not to put him in, in fact, because I wanted to reach a larger audience. But I can’t help it. He’s a part of me. And he’s the reason I make it through my loneliest days.
I’ll leave you with these quotes from the end of the book that we have spent so much time looking at:
“Coming from the religious tradition of John Donne, C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.’ ” (Cacioppo 269, from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis – 1960)
“Coming from the scientific tradition of Charles Darwin, E. O. Wilson wrote: ‘We are obliged by the deepest drives of the human spirit to make ourselves more than animated dust. We must have a story to tell about where we came from, and why we are here.’ ” (Cacioppo 269, from Consilience – 1999).
Missed something? We don’t want you to feel left out. 🙂
Check out the rest of the “Loneliness Series”:
1. Loneliness: It’s All of Us
2. Loneliness: The Problem, the Paradoxical Virus, and a Cure
3. Loneliness: Finding the “Inner” Person
4. Loneliness: Finding the “Other” Person
5. Loneliness: Finding Meaning in What you Do
6. Loneliness: For the In-Between
7. Loneliness: Understanding Loneliness in All People
8. Loneliness: Helping Others, Helping Yourself
9. Loneliness: Finding the “Upper” Person
10. Loneliness: Final Thoughts on an Un-Final Topic