A young deer lies helpless as the blood oozes from his chest
onto the green mat of the orchard. He sighs deeply
and says to himself,
“Dying is hardest when you’re dying alone.”
Many of us are like this young deer. We are suffering in some way and maybe the hardest part is that it feels like we’re facing it alone. Even an abundance of wealth while going through physical suffering, pales in comparison to the missing touch of a hand or the sob of a companion offering some solace. In times like these, loneliness may seem worse than death itself. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, we may feel like we are left alone, and it would be better for us to die.
Normally, we expect the elderly to most experience loneliness (think of that widow who “died of a lonely heart”), but a study conducted by Harvard University found that during the COVID-19 pandemic those hardest hit by loneliness are older teens and young adults (Walsh, 2021). Isn’t that interesting? In a time when youths have so many avenues of social media interaction, one would think they would be less affected by loneliness than the elderly. It seems something is not working right.
The same study offers that a robust social network is the answer to this loneliness epidemic. I would further add that this strong social community is best nurtured through the church. The church has the greatest opportunity and resources for accomplishing such a robust social network. A survey conducted by UNICEF found that, after hospitals, worship centers were among the main mechanisms sought out by young people in times of mental distress or depression. This cements the fact that the church (a worship center) is positioned as a place for nurturing social wellness.
Why does the church hold the greatest opportunity and resources? Because of the Holy Spirit of God. Not only is this true at an individual level (the Holy Spirit says, He is with you always, Matthew 28:20), but on a communal level we find the Holy Spirit has the power to break all the bonds of loneliness that we may feel. Ephesians 4:3-4 charges the church to “…keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit… “
Paul reveals to us in 2 Corinthians 1 verses 3 to 4 that the God of all comfort, comforts us individually in all our troubles, so that we can in turn comfort one another with the same comfort we receive from God. By reading the Gospel of John, we understand that comfort from God is provided through His Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 18, 26; John 15:26).
It is with this mindset that youth leaders and engaged youth can transform their social interactions and weekly meetings into life-changing encounters! Young people are suffering from loneliness right across the world and it is up to you to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit to bring fellowship and unity. An hour of meaningful youthful engagement would do the lonely heart much better than four hours of aimless browsing through social media or online gaming. Young believers should make it their priority to assemble together where they can, whether online or in small groups. This is what kept the early church in their time of great persecution (…all that believed were together and had all things common, Acts 2:44). This is what will rescue us from loneliness in this time.
God’s answer to Elijah sitting lonely under his juniper tree holds true for us today, “I have others also who are still standing with you!” Let us seek to nurture these relationships we have in the body of Christ.
The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of adolescents and youth. (2020). UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean. https://www.unicef.org/lac/en/impact-covid-19-mental-health-adolescents-and-youth
Walsh, C. (2021, February 17). Young adults hardest hit by loneliness during pandemic, study finds. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/02/young-adults-teens-loneliness-mental-health-coronavirus-covid-pandemic/