‘Give us this day our daily bread’.
Many know these words from The Lord’s Prayer, spoken by Jesus. But are they just a petition for nourishment or could they even be protesting against a deeper loneliness?
A woman who suffered many lonely times herself thought so. She penned a ‘spiritual interpretation’ of this plea: ‘Give us grace for today; feed the famished affections’.
This resonated with me when I came across it in Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. I wasn’t lonely in the traditional sense. But even though I had family and friends I felt starved of affection.
But that’s not unusual. Ohio University’s Dr Lisa Jaremka – commenting on her research into the negative physiological impact of loneliness – told the BBC: ‘Being lonely means not feeling connected or cared for. It’s not about being physically alone.’
It’s highly important, of course, for society to find solutions to such disconnectedness – a situation often exacerbated by the ‘festive season’. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s increasing research into what Dr Jaremka described as ‘the importance of loneliness in health’. As NHS England’s Dr Martin McShane explained: ‘Social isolation is on a par with smoking in its impact on health.’
Sadly, such health-undermining isolation is a common refrain today. A Mental Health Foundation study concluded one in ten people often feels lonely, while over 40% have felt depressed as a result.
But do we have to let aloneness define who we are? Or can alone time, however it arises, offer the opportunity to dig deeper and find hidden resources?
That’s what happened to me. I found that a sense of alienation didn’t necessarily need company in order to be subdued. Rather, it could give place to a sweet sense of inner connectedness which, in turn, brought to light practical ideas for overcoming isolation. I found myself impelled to focus on better expressing love to others, and by doing so I also felt more loved.
As a friend once put it: ‘I think moments of loneliness are universal. Perhaps what we do with them is not.’
Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way when we’re lonely at Christmas, whether by ourselves or ‘alone in a crowd’.
However, a solution to this is touched on in Science and Health. It speaks of two aspects of a ‘wilderness’ experience. Many, of course, will identify with the first: ‘Loneliness; doubt; darkness.’ However, it also pinpoints a potential there for ‘spontaneity of thought and idea’, whereby mental darkness can give way to a diviner sense of existence.
Just how important that is was demonstrated by the central character of the Christmas story. Jesus knew a thing or two about loneliness, for while there was plenty of joy in his healing ministry there was also desertion and betrayal. Yet he was still able to say: ‘The kingdom of God is inside you’.
If we can become conscious of that connection this Christmas, we might be surprised to feel just how deeply valued and loved we are.
This was first published on the Huffington Post UK as ‘Is There a Deeper Connection Beyond Christmas Loneliness?’