Henry Melvill (not the writer of Moby Dick, but a preacher in the 1800s) said this: “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and along these fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
“We cannot live only for ourselves.”
Imagine a world in which every person made a difference in every other person – a world where “How are you?” actually means, “I genuinely want to know what is going on in your life – your struggles, your fears, your worries for today – your joys, your adventures, your loves.” What if we were not merely surface-level humans in a post-modern world, but real people with purpose-directed compassion? What if we cared deeply for strangers, family, and friends alike?
Isn’t that what you crave? A place where you can be loved and where you can make a difference in the lives of the unloved? It’s what I want. Almost more than anything else.
We’ve talked about finding purpose in whatever you do. We’ve talked about finding who you are, about finding other people, and next time, we’ll talked about finding spirituality. But, aren’t these all connected to helping others? I mean, really, there is no better way to find purpose. It shows you so many of your gifts, allows you to use them, and it gets you to a deeper level with other people. It fulfills one of Jesus’ greatest commands – to love your neighbor as yourself. And, so, we’ve dedicated a whole day in our loneness series to living for someone else.
In the past week, we have given two people rides to wherever they needed to go. A mother’s car broke down and she was the one who asked for a ride to her house. Then Mark took me to the beach last night and there was an American girl who was worried about walking through the bush in the dark, so we gave her a lift. I don’t feel very valiant about these two encounters, but rather ashamed that I haven’t thought to reach out to others in the past. In the past seven months, I haven’t even thought of giving rides to people. I get shy and in my own world, and I know that there have been times when I could have shown someone a real kindness. But, I haven’t.
I wonder if, in taking the time to get to know someone, we might be saving a life. I wonder if, by talking to that girl last night, she might have a little more courage to do what she wants to do when she gets back home. In the grocery store, the pharmacy, the everyday-places, there are hurting people. That lady in Wal-Mart yelling at her kids. That teenager browsing shops alone in the mall. They are most likely hurting. They may be hurting as much as you are – maybe even more. Maybe much less.
I think about the marginalized in our societies – all the way back to the shooting at Colombine High School in 1999. We wonder, looking back at that and some other school shootings, that if students had been more kind, it might have been prevented. What makes someone so angry that they would kill? It’s hatred. But it stems from somewhere. Are guns the problem? Maybe, maybe not. But, I feel like helping broken, maybe deeply lonely, people would help a lot. I might be an idealist. But, I also know that being marginalized, bullied, verbally abused – any of this and the like – can do horrible things to the mind. When you’re horribly lonely, don’t you start to get angry that no one has come to see – that no one has called? Yeah, you do. I do. And sometimes it leads us to a point of anger and bitterness. I think that at least a few of the world’s crimes might be stopped by a little bit of kindness. Maybe if someone had encouraged Hitler’s artistic talent rather than putting him down? Who knows? But it’s worth a try to save a life. It’s worth a try even to try and save ourselves.
So, what are some ways we can help others who may be lonely?
Be a father or mother to the “fatherless”. Last time, we talked about how at least 1/3 of homes are single-parent households. The new orphan isn’t necessarily missing both parents. They may just be missing one. Whether it’s the father or mother, it does make a difference in their life. They need to see good men and they need to see good women. Open up your home to your kid’s friends. Go read to kids in schools. Do what you can to fill the void that might grow into chronic loneliness as an adult. If you are part of a church, then this is super easy to do. You may also consider sponsoring a child on the other side of the world through Compassion International or World Vision. Write to them. Tell them they are important.
Be a shoulder for the widows/widowers. I can’t think of a harder thing to deal with than being without your spouse, and I often pray earnestly for the widows and widowers that I know. I dream about them and I send out thoughts of love and sympathy when I wake up. Go see them. Check on them. Take them places. Feed them. They will need to cry sometimes, and they need a shoulder. My excuse for not going to them is usually, “But what will I say? How can I help?” But they are bad excuses. Don’t be afraid that you won’t be good enough for them. Like you, sometimes they just need someone to sit and be with them.
Be a friend to the elderly. This one is soooooo much easier than you would think. You probably know someone in a nursing home, so go visit them. My dad the pastor is in the nursing home a lot. He’s really good at that. But, a lot of times, I wonder if other people in the church go. It makes such a difference. Company is everything. It’s not fair to be stuck in a nursing home and not be able to take action and go out someplace. Go hear stories. You’ll learn heaps, feel so much better, and the person you are seeing will feel better, too.
Be a home for the foreigners, the displaced. How relevant is this right now? In Auckland, internationals are pouring in just because New Zealand is a good place to live and it’s fairly easy to immigrate here. And we know that people are being displaced from homes they love – countries they call their own – and sent to any country that will let them in. Can you imagine being in a new country where everyone speaks a different language than you, eats different food than you, and acts differently than you? Maybe you have a different religion or dress differently and you don’t know how to fit in – or to even start fitting in. Maybe you start craving your favorite candy – Reese’s – but it’s not in your new country. I chose to live in this country and it’s still hard – and they even speak the same language as me. Seek out immigrants. Feed them. Ask them to show you how to cook their favourite food. I’d like to do this here, so I need to figure out where to start.
Be support for the jobless. I’m an advocate for this one right now since I don’t have a job. There are many reasons why people may not have a job. I’m sick a lot, and am just plain scared to start up something that I might not be able to keep doing. I am working on it, but in the meantime, I need to feel like my life has purpose. This is even more true for people who have lost their jobs, people who actively job search, or people who are really searching for that career that is a good fit for them. We are made to do. It helps us have purpose and develops our sense of self. Be support for those that need it. Listen to them – not just about their job search. Tell them what they are good at and encourage them. It’s a hard time and they may be feeling quite lonely and overwhelmed.
Show mercy. What would happen if, instead of growling at someone for cutting you off in traffic, you smiled and waved? What an idea! Some people are just… not nice. And you don’t want to be… not nice. So be kind to the unkind. If someone edges in front of you at the grocery store, smile at them. Tell them you’re not in a hurry if they pretend to act like they didn’t see you. This doesn’t mean to let others metaphorically “run you over” all the time. It just helps both you and them to be happy. You build a positive connection with another human being where you could have built a negative one. It’s a magic trick, basically.
There are not many things I can promise you about how to cure loneliness. But, I can promise you that helping others will help you – in one way or another. But, probably, it will be more than you could ever expect.
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