Recently, I attended a concert consisting of only Beatles’ music. What struck me as I listened to two hours of their music was how pervasiveness the theme of loneliness was.
Some subsequent research taught me the evolutionary value of people feeling lonely, that loneliness is a serious health threat, and that, as often heard without documentation, loneliness is on the increase:
Evolutionary psychologists say the lonely feeling developed to alert humans—social animals who rely on each other to survive—that they were too close to the perimeter of the group and at risk of becoming prey. … Researchers at Brigham Young University studying the correlation between social relationships and mortality did a 2010 meta-analysis of 148 studies encompassing more than 300,000 participants. They found loneliness was as strong a predictor of early death as was alcoholism or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it was a stronger predictor than obesity or a sedentary lifestyle.
The rate of loneliness in the U.S. has doubled in the past 30 years, says John T. Cacioppo, a psychologist and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, who studies loneliness including analysis of several large studies. These days, he estimates, some 40% of Americans report being lonely, up from 20% in the 1980s. Why are we experiencing more loneliness? Many more American adults live alone than ever before, with the percentage of one-person households rising to 27% in 2012 from 17% in 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As baby boomers age, they are dealing with more solitude and seclusion. And, to be frank, many of us spend way too much time behind electronic screens and not nearly enough on our real, in-person connections. (Elizabeth Bernstein, "When Being Alone Turns into Loneliness, There Are Ways to Fight Back," Wall Street Journal, Nov 4, 2013)
Of course, not all Beatles’ songs are about loneliness. But in one of the less upbeat musicals that Oscar Hammerstein wrote, Carousel, there is the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with these lyrics:
When you walk through a storm,
Hold your head up high,
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart,
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus parting words to his disciples are “I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19) This promise is about God, not about Jesus. Humans inevitably die, leaving loved ones behind. Only God is ever present, embracing all creation.
Yet, if we are honest, God’s presence at times will feel distant, perhaps even unreal. In those moments, walk on. Walk on with hope in your heart that you will encounter another person who, although they cannot in any way replace the person who is no longer there, can initiate a new friendship in your life.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart that the God in whom you once trusted is still with you. Though you are blind, deaf, and insensitive to that presence, trust that in the beauty of a new dawn, which inevitably follows night, the sun will shine, the rain will end, and the lark will sing.
Faith is not believing a creed or other set of theological propositions, but the courage to walk on, walking on with hope in your heart that you are loved and that your life has meaning.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, confident that you are a beloved member of God’s family.