Sometimes, I am a really bad person.
Especially when it comes to dates: birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions. Now, there are some I always remember. My wife’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, our children’s birthdays are among those dates I always remember and do something special.
But I have four older brothers. I know all of their birthdays. But I often forget to call and rarely send a card. I know that my Mom’s birthday is one of two days in October; I can just never remember which one. My Dad’s birthday is so close to Father’s Day that I always just say, “Happy Birthday,” on that Sunday in June and figure I am covered.
My nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives all have birthdays. One every year. I think my wife remembers them. If I am friends with them on facebook I get the reminder on the actual date.
Now, my ability to remember special days for my family members is in no way related to the amount of time I spend thinking about them. I think of them often. When I see certain pictures or hear certain phrases or smell certain aromas memories come flooding back. I think about and love my family and my friends.
But I suck when it comes to actually telling them that.
This past weekend, I was among a group of adults who spent some time with 18 high school students. We gave them the opportunity to share some of their struggles as well as important milestones in their lives. When it came to the struggles, one word popped up in almost everyone’s story: lonely.
As a parent, I observe the groups my children spend time with. At church, we are involved with the youth group. I am constantly amazed at the intelligence, wisdom, service, and maturity of this group. They are not perfect, but they are probably the greatest group of teenagers I have ever been around.
And some of them are more popular than others. Some always have a smile on their face. Some are always involved in all the activities and always have friends around them doing the same things.
And these were the ones who were saying they felt lonely.
Loneliness is hard because it causes us to isolate from the very people who can help us the most because they relate to us so well.
Lonely people need to know other people are experiencing loneliness, too. Lonely people need to know they are not, well, alone.
Lonely has nothing to do with popularity.
Lonely can’t be overcome by continually asking, “Is everything okay?”
Lonely is not remedied with a formula; a one-size-fits-all cure; a uniform procedure.
Overcoming lonely starts with the admission, “I am lonely.” And it’s a long road from that admission to feeling better. But every journey, no matter how long, has a starting point.
So what does my shortcoming as a relative have to do with loneliness?
How often am I around people I care for deeply but fail to say something?
How often do I look at somebody in the same room as me but do not take time to check in with them because I figure I will see them next week?
How often do I see someone with a smile on their face and just assume that everything is okay?
How often do I see someone in a crowd and assume they are doing all right since they have so many friends?
I have experienced loneliness before. I know that it is a jumbled mix of wanting to be left alone and wanting everyone to care enough to notice and say something. I know that people who are lonely want to find that one person they can talk to but they are afraid to speak up to anybody. I know that lonely people can find themselves in the midst of a large group of people and hide how they are feeling on the inside.
And I know that in my darkest moments of loneliness, I can approach the one or two people who have consistently expressed care and concern without seeming pushy.
So maybe, just maybe, if I want to be that type of person who can help others overcome their loneliness, I need to show some care and concern and interest in their lives.
It’s great that I think about how much I love my brothers. Maybe it would be better if I told them.
It’s great that when I look at people in the church auditorium I say a prayer for them. Maybe it would be better if voiced the prayer over them so they heard it.
It’s great that I genuinely care for people. Maybe it would be better if I showed it by remembering the things that are important to them.
As I said, the remedy for loneliness is not going to be the same for everyone. And in large part, the lonely person has to make a huge first step in reaching out and asking for help. But there must be people available to hear that call. We must make ourselves available to people so they will know who they can turn to when life is at its darkest.
And we can’t wait until people are in the grips of loneliness and despair before we begin to act. We help overcome (and prevent) loneliness by being people who genuinely care for and are interested in other people. We help lonely people by our willingness to consistently speak truth and encouragement into the lives of others.
It makes me sad to think that people I care for deeply may experience loneliness and ask themselves if anyone actually cares. It also makes me sad to acknowledge that I have not done enough to speak my love and care into their lives.
But that can change. I will do my part. I hope you will, too.