Loneliness and Fear

Lonely Bench

Today’s quote is from Holy Scripture in the words of King David: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Psalm 25:16

There are many reasons people become lonely, three of which are on my mind today. The first is loneliness that develops at the time of death of a loved one. The second is loneliness that occurs when one has been diagnosed with a serious, even fatal disease. The third is loneliness simply from living alone, whether at home or in an extended care facility.

In each circumstance the loneliness is often accompanied by feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, hunger, boredom, despair, or even depression. The initial loneliness is often exacerbated by the absence of family or friends with whom the lonely person can share the feelings listed above.

To make matters worse, more often than not such friends and even family members are reluctant to call or visit the person whose affliction has produced the loneliness. One reason for such reluctance is uncertainty about what to say or do that will make the afflicted person feel better.

My encouragement is for you to pick up the phone and call that person in your life described by this article. Perhaps begin with something like: “I heard of your loss/illness/move (or it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other) and just wanted to call to let you know that you are in my heart and in my prayers. Is there anything I might be able to do for you at this time?”

Then simply let the person talk. Avoid trying to make him or her feel better by referring to your own experiences with loneliness. Instead, try to think of things to say that will convey your sincere concern and that might stimulate further conversation, no matter how brief.

If you feel confident doing so, conclude the conversation with a prayer for God’s comfort, love, and guidance. If you’re not confident in actually praying aloud, simply assure the person with whom you’re speaking of your prayers and love. Then follow through on that assurance with a note or another call or a personal visit to provide further encouragement and support.

David cried out in his loneliness to the Lord, who responded with comfort and blessing. That caused David to exclaim a couple chapters later: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

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The Will to Live

Credit:  Jesse Therrien

Credit: Jesse Therrien

On my birthday last year, January 29, 2013, I saved an article from USA Today. It’s been sitting on my desk under a pile of other documents since then, awaiting my attention. The title is “Have we lost the will to live?” The subtitle: “Suicide is up. Around the world, it is way up. And it explains why mass murderers do what they do.” The author is Rebecca D. Costa.

The article briefly references a number of recent attacks on innocent civilians and concludes the perpetrators had one thing in common: “Long before they reached for a weapon, they lost their desire to live. And it is this unnatural state that enabled them to commit unimaginable acts. Once a person makes a decision to die, the most abhorrent atrocities become permissible. There are no longer any consequences to fear: no arrest, no jail, no trial, no families of the victims to face, no remorse, no mothering. Dead is dead.”

Conversely, the article proposes, would-be murderers from the past were different. After aiming his gun at President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth ran. So did Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Even disturbed killers like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson went to great lengths to keep their crimes hidden. Why? “Because the drive to survive – to thrive, to propagate – is the strongest instinct among all living organisms. Self-preservation is a fundamental urge in nature. But in recent times, this instinct has gone awry.”

Supporting this premise is the observation that antidepressants are now the most prescribed drugs in the USA, climbing almost 400% in the past two decades, particularly among preschoolers and adolescents. In addition, an estimated 1 million people in the U.S. report attempting to commit suicide each year. One such attempt succeeds every 14 minutes.

Suicides have also risen around the globe, having increased 60% in the past 45 years. “We have a widespread affliction on our hands that is affecting the entire human race. An affliction we understand very little about. An affliction we continue to sweep under the rug and blame on guns, the economy and every other thing. An affliction that has become a preamble for mass murder.”

In case the reader hasn’t figured it out by now, the author makes one main point of the article crystal clear: “Today, fast-firing assault weapons grab international attention, but that is not what makes people like Adam Lanza (perpetrator of Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings) so dangerous or what gives us reason to fear more such attacks; it’s the fact that Lanza had no will to live. That’s not a problem that can be solved by gun control or arming school guards.”

“If we have any hope of curbing tragedies such as Columbine and Sandy Hook, we must not allow rhetoric or short-term mitigation overshadow the opportunity to address the real culprit behind mass violence. Thriving, happy, connected human beings don’t use guns to harm others, no matter how plentiful. They don’t fashion fertilizer or airplanes into bombs. And they don’t need the government to regulate these things. Nature has designed us so that the will to live acts as a deterrent against anything that threatens our continuation – including opening fire in a public place. Fix this, and it won’t be long before gun control is superseded by self-control. And at the end of the day, isn’t this a far more lasting alternative than surrendering hard-won liberties?”

Regardless of your (or my) personal opinion regarding gun control, the question begged has to do with the real root cause(s) of the absence of a will to live. Is it biological, psychological, physiological, societal? Is it hereditary or environmental? Is it curable or a hopelessly de facto lifetime reality for those affected? Or is it simply a demonic manifestation of the power of the devil in the lives of real people?

Whatever the answer(s) might be, Christians could add to the USA Today article this biblical explanation for the problem the author identifies: “Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) And the concluding remedy: “Resist him, firm in your faith … and the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:9-11)

That explanation is not a magic wand. Nevertheless it hopefully encourages individuals, families, churches and humanitarian or governmental organizations to do everything humanly possible to protect the sanctity and safety of the life of every human being. That becomes ever more critical given the reality of living life in the midst of individuals who no longer have the will to live.

Children Who Hurt Themselves

Credit: Penny Mathews

Credit: Penny Mathews

Recently I read an article in the Austin American Statesman. The front page headline was quite disturbing: “Austin schools tally 1,000 students who intentionally hurt themselves.”

Here’s a portion of the article: “When Lizzie was in seventh grade, she would use a mechanical pencil to cut her arms and ankles under her desk. Her teachers never noticed. She would do it to make herself feel numb when she was anxious or when her emotions overwhelmed her. It became an addiction that Lizzie, now a high school student, is still fighting.”

“Health officials say self-injury – cutting, hitting, burning, bruising or otherwise hurting oneself to relieve stress or anxiety – frequently stems from underlying emotional or psychiatric problems, such as bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is an often misunderstood problem that is more widespread than parents might think.”

The Austin school district last year began tracking when students tell counselors or teachers that they are cutting or hurting themselves, and it has tallied nearly 1,000 such reports so far. “When I got those numbers, I was alarmed,” said a crisis counseling coordinator at the district who started the program. “For many years, we’ve known it is high, but the last two or three years we started paying more attention to it.”

The article goes on to describe self-injury as something teenagers and preteens have seen their friends and classmates doing, and some try it, not realizing that it can become addictive or that it can be a precursor to suicide. The body reacts to the injuries by releasing serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Self-injury can become addictive as the body builds tolerance.

In the Austin instance, school officials are working to prevent self-injury in schools, rewriting the crisis handbook to include a protocol for dealing with self-injury. They provide staff development with counselors and are creating a DVD aimed at middle school students to teach them what to do if they or their friends are hurting themselves.

One school official said: “Self-injury is one thing a lot of people aren’t aware of. What surprises me time and time again is how well the kids hide it. Our kids are good at masking – their grades look great and they’re still involved in clubs and look happy, but they’re doing this.”

Once adults do find out, though, they need to be sure to treat it like it is: an unhealthy coping mechanism. “There a lot of things people do that are unhealthy, and this is just one of them. It’s not like you’re crazy for cutting … you just learned a way to cope that’s not healthy.”

My thoughts are simple. In addition to providing appropriate professional assistance, parents, grandparents, pastors and teachers can help immensely by affirming in young people a sense of individual self-worth as children of God. His love, forgiveness and acceptance have great power!