Three weeks before Christmas, Wolfgang Dircks died while watching television. His body wasn’t discovered until five years later.
None of the neighbors in his apartment complex noticed the absence of the 43-year-old. His rent continued to be paid automatically out of his bank account. When the money finally ran out five years later, the landlord entered Dircks’s apartment to inquire.
He found Dircks’s remains still in front of the tube. The TV guide on his lap was open to December 3, the presumed day of his death. Although the television set had burned out, the lights on Dircks’s Christmas tree were still twinkling away.
Wolfgang’s loneliness and isolation was not unique. An organization called The Loneliness Project has collected hundreds of testimonies from people who are living similar isolated lives. Here’s what a desperately lonely 60-year-old man named Scout wrote:
“I think I’ve felt lonely throughout my life and I am truly alone except for my dog. Christmas guts me every year. I already accept there won’t be even a phone call for me. I bought a precooked meal and a slice of pie. My evening walk with the dog wounds my soul every year, for curtains are open into living rooms full of families and friends. I can hear them, sometimes smell their turkey dinners, but most of all, I feel all their happiness, knowing I will never have it myself. I get home and go to bed, crying until I fall asleep.”
Loneliness is especially prevalent and ten times more painful during the holiday season, when we long more than ever for love and relationship. When we lack close relationships and yet see so many others enjoying them, the pain can be overwhelming … as Scout’s heartbreaking testimony above illustrates.
What is God’s cure for loneliness? Ultimately, it’s him. He alone can fulfill the deep longing of our heart for complete understanding, acceptance and love. God provides this ultimate cure for loneliness through the gospel, the good news that Jesus gave up his life to pay for our sins and open the way for reconciliation and eternal fellowship with God.
But the gospel cure for loneliness will not be completed until we pass from this world into the very presence of God. Until then, we have a natural, God-created need for deep human relationships. As God proclaimed at creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
What this means is that although God himself is the long-term cure for loneliness, you and I are his short-term cure.
This is why there are hundreds of passages in Scripture calling us to be channels of his love and compassion into the lives of those around us … into the lives of people like Wolfgang and Scout.
Here are six ways you can be part of God’s short-term cure for loneliness this Christmas.
- Look around in your office, church or neighborhood and notice people who may have little fellowship during the holidays, especially the elderly, those who have lost loved ones or who live far from family, or who don’t seem to have many close friends. Then invite these people into the warmth of your home in the name and love of Jesus, not only on during the holidays or on Christmas day but again and again in the days that follow as you seek to build genuine friendships.
- To enhance your ability to discern and connect with lonely people, study, pray about and practice the relational skills described in our free download, Seven Steps to Empathy.
- If you are lonely or alone, resist the temptation to pull into a shell as Scout did. Instead, look around for others who may also long for fellowship and devote yourself to alleviating their loneliness … which may also help to alleviate yours.
- Pray that God would bring to mind any relationships that have been broken or strained in the past by conflict. Review the peacemaking principles that apply to your situation and then reach out to the people God puts on your mind and offer them the gift of reconciliation. As illustrated by the true stories in Overcoming Rejection, Reconciled by a Baby Moose and If Your Enemy Needs Electricity, that other person might be longing for you to make the first move.
Show your children how they too can be part of God’s solution to loneliness. Read or watch the movie versions of popular Christmas stories that portray the pain of loneliness, such as The Little Match Girl, A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life or The Grinch (I love the version with Benedict Cumberbatch because the Grinch’s dog, Max, is as devoted to him as my dog, Cooper, is to me!). After discussing how key characters struggle with loneliness, encourage your children to plan how they can reach out to one or more people and show them the love of Jesus this Christmas season.
- Prayerfully identify a few people in your church or workplace who don’t seem to have many close relationships, possibly because they lack good relational skills. Invite them to meet with you weekly to go through our Discovering Relational Wisdom or Relational Peacemaking courses together, either by using one of our group study sets or by going through the online course privately and then meeting over lunch or one evening a week to discuss what you are learning.
Christmas is a time for remembering how God sent his Son into the world to break through our aloneness and restore our relationship with him. What better way to celebrate his amazing gift to us than by imitating this same kind of love toward others?
- Why is loneliness more pervasive and painful during the holiday season?
- Think of a time when you were especially lonely in your life. Why was that such a lonely time? How long did it last? Did it simply fade away, or did God bring some people into your life to provide the fellowship you longed for?
- Are there times when you’re surrounded by people and yet feel lonely? Why does that happen? Has it occurred to you that others may feel the same way in the same setting, and that God may be calling you to reach out to them?
- Who are some people God may be calling you to encourage, invite out for coffee or bring into your home during the holidays? Will you obey that calling?
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© 2023 Ken Sande
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