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