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Christmas season puts spotlight on epidemic of loneliness – including in the church

With the Christmas bustle, it can be easy to forget that the holidays can be one of the loneliest times of the year for many people. Nearly one-third of U.S. adults report loneliness, according to Barna research.

“Loneliness is the distress someone feels when their social connections don’t meet their need for emotional intimacy,” behavioral scientist Susan Mettes aid. “It’s lack, it’s disappointment, it’s something we are conscious of, even when we don’t call it loneliness. Loneliness is a thirst that drives us to seek companionship — or, perhaps better, fellowship. Without fellowship, we go on needing others and seeking relief for that need.”

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For those who experienced loneliness at least once within the past week, more than 40 percent said the feelings of loneliness ranged from intense to unbearable.

christmas loneliness

“These numbers give us a snapshot of loneliness,” she said. “What they don’t reveal is for whom loneliness is a long-term, chronic condition. The chronic version of loneliness is more damaging. Those whose loneliness is constant and chronic have likely experienced how loneliness can chip away at health and quality of life.”

Barna compared the rate of loneliness in the church with the rate of loneliness in the general population and found little difference.

“Looking at committed faith practice, practicing Christians — those who identify as Christian and agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month — do show a slight decrease in how often they feel lonely, when compared to churched adults and the general population,” researchers said. “However, a notable one in five still feels lonely at least once each day, with 10 percent being lonely all the time.”

christmas loneliness

The Barna study suggests that churchgoers who experience loneliness are more likely than non-churchgoing adults to describe more severe feelings of loneliness, while practicing Christians reported less painful feelings of loneliness.

Researchers also found that practicing Christians were more likely than other groups to stigmatize loneliness as “always” bad, indicating less willingness to discuss the issue in a church context.

“There is a real danger of letting positive psychology hijack the church’s real purpose,” Mettes said. “It is because of what the Christian faith teaches that Christians do so many things that are good for loneliness (i.e.,. group singing, community service, meeting in person). But confronting loneliness isn’t an ultimate goal. In the taxonomy of church priorities, it is a subcategory of loving your neighbor.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice