What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “failure to thrive”? Do you think of small children in developing countries who have been abandoned or small children who fail to get proper nutrition and healthcare? While those images can be accurate, there is a “failure to thrive” that often goes unseen in our churches and in our communities. It’s called loneliness.
It’s no secret that 2020 has been filled with isolation and loneliness stemming from COVID-19. Not only did we find ourselves confined to our homes, but most of us found ourselves isolated even from our church family when restrictions wouldn’t allow gatherings. Whether it was the loneliness found in senior adult living centers or the single woman working alone in her one bedroom apartment, most people have experienced some form of isolation this year. And they are failing to thrive because of this isolation.
And now the holidays are coming. What should be a time of celebration with families and gatherings will look much differently this year. Holidays have always been a time when people experience deeper times of loneliness, but this year the isolation seems intensified.
From the beginning of creation, God knew it was not good for man to be alone. After creating the moon, the stars, and all the living creatures, God realized Adam needed a helper. And while Adam had the companionship of his Creator, there was no one else like him. Genesis 2 describes the scene and God’s response in verse 18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him’” (CSB). The outcome was the creation of a necessary ally, a woman fashioned to join Adam and fill the void of loneliness in his work and his life.
So, if it’s important for us to not live in isolation—and we know loneliness contributes to the deterioration of mental health—how can we lead others to find community in the midst of a pandemic? How can we celebrate the holidays and stay connected to those who need it most?
Here are five suggestions you can incorporate this season as you minister to the lonely and be Jesus with skin on.
1. Identify various people in your area of influence who are experiencing loneliness. Don’t be hesitant to ask! Check on people either through a phone call, video call, or quick email. Check with them frequently and consistently. Some people you need to consider include senior adults, college students, widows, single adults, and those who are far away from family.
2. Learn to listen. One of our Lifeway Women trainers, Kaye Hurta, wrote a blog on loneliness before the pandemic. In it, she writes, “The invitation to all of us who minister to hurting women is to create space, moments, or events where we can safely tell our stories and find connection. Psalm 68:6a says, “God sets the lonely in families…” (NIV). My challenge to all of us who minister to women, no, my challenge to all of us as human beings, is to commit to two things with the ‘one anothers’ in our lives: love well and listen well.”1
3. Make a plan of action and divide the responsibilities. Just as you aren’t made to be the only person to lead in ministry, form a task group and plan various ways to engage with those you have identified. For instance, enlist moms of college students to prepare care packages for finals week or identify students who might need a place to stay during the holidays. Call a local senior adult living center and ask how you can safely minister to their residents. Can you send them Christmas cards or leave gifts at the front door?
4. Be creative in the midst of the pandemic. While I know many of the churches in my area are gathering, there are still many people who are not attending because they have underlying health conditions that prohibit them from leaving their house except for essential needs. Consider how you can pair up various people and encourage them to have a meal delivered to someone or place a poinsettia on a front porch. Set up a phone system where you assign various women to call someone else at least once a week and check on her. Distribute addresses when appropriate and encourage women to send Christmas cards to those who are celebrating alone. Assign prayer partners with those who live alone so they can pray for specific needs, especially in the area of loneliness.
5. If you can plan a gathering, keep it small and safe. If you live where the weather is still warm, consider planning an outdoor activity. Make a special effort to include those who live by themselves or need an extra dose of community. If you can’t gather, encourage intentional one-on-one times where women can meet safely.
If you observe loneliness in someone that you believe may be harmful, encourage him/her to consider finding a trusted counselor. If you sense that loneliness has increased someone’s anxiety or depression, check on him/her more frequently. If that is you and you have thoughts of harming yourself, please call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Our prayer is for you to learn how
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church. You can hear Kelly at Lifeway’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.
1. Kaye Hurta, “The Epidemic of Loneliness,” Lifeway: Ministry to Women, December 6, 2019, accessed November 6, 2020, https://womensministry.lifeway.com/2019/12/06/the-epidemic-of-loneliness/.