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Issue No.116
26 September 2018

The gift of relationship

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Corin Pilling considers how we can help the lonely in our society

HOW MANY OF US MIGHT ADMIT TO TIMES OF LONELINESS? In a socially-networked, hyper-mobile culture, there's every feeling that you may be personally deficient if you experience loneliness. In the words of writer Douglas Coupland, "Forget sex, or politics or religion, loneliness is the subject that clears out a room." With such a clinging sense of taboo, it's no wonder that many approach the topic with diffidence, even when there are good grounds to believe that others may be struggling too.

Key life transitions can be times when many of us are at risk of enduring periods of loneliness, but those who are older often experience greater degrees of isolation. With surveys indicating that 17% of older people are in contact with friends and family less than once a week, how might we respond compassionately and practically?

 

Checking our perspective

Are we offering pity, or can we offer friendship? Understanding our motivation is a great starting point, as is remembering what each of us would prefer if we were being approached. Our society seems to have a limited understanding of usefulness, equating it with productivity. Yet recognising each person's God-given qualities, the richness of each of our stories, our skills and complexities can free us to receive the gift of relationship too.

 

It takes time

Maintaining curiosity is a healthy habit. As we make friends throughout our lives, we find that different things glue those friendships together. The same is true here. As well as being a careful questioner, exploring shared activity may be a place to bond with those who are not 'big talkers'. Reading aloud or learning new activities can be useful. A shared spiritual practice for those of faith can be life-giving for all parties.

 

The art of neighbouring

Some people make this look effortless, given their evident kindness and availability. Some of us, myself included, need to continue to relearn the art of remembering others, which can disappear in the busyness. The offer of picking up something in the supermarket, the weekly phone call, taking out the rubbish, may seem so simple. Many may be surprised that it's even mentioned, but given the erosion of community relationships, it is important to elevate these simple acts.

 

Join forces

Do your research. Which schemes might be locally active? It may make more sense for you to become part of these rather than starting something new. Age UK offers telephone and in-person befriending, and charities such as Linking Lives are equipping churches to set up their own groups to focus on their locality. On a smaller scale, finding an ally who has similar concerns might be appropriate. In addition to church, local online community noticeboards, such as Nextdoor, may help you pool ideas and find others to connect with.

In all we do, let us move away from somebody experiencing loneliness as a problem to be fixed. Instead, let us affirm each one as an image bearer of God, made for relationship and with potential gifts to give.

Corin Pilling is Assistant Director of Community Engagement at Livability

www.livability.org.uk

 

IMAGE IKON IMAGES