Lonely on Valentine’s Day
About the Guest
Even if Valentine's Day is all about love, that doesn't mean everyone loves Valentine's Day. There are many people, single AND married, who feel isolated and alone on this holiday. Director of FamilyLife Blended on FamilyLife this Week and licensed counselor Ron Deal talks about healthy ways of coping with loneliness.
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Everyone doesn’t love Valentine’s Day. Singles and marrieds alike feel isolated and alone. Ron Deal, LPC, helps you cope with profound loneliness.
Lonely on Valentine’s Day
Michelle: If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and begin to retreat inside yourself, Ron Deal says it may have something to do with loneliness.
Ron: Some people retreat into depression; right? Some people retreat into shame: “It must be all about me. Nobody loves me; I’m unlovable.” That kind of thinking begins to pervade. Or the opposite of that—blame—“Boy, it’s everybody else who’s no good, horrible, evil/all those Christians at church that are phony.”
You know, we do a lot of interesting things when we’re retreating like that. So it’s always good to examine: “What are my vulnerabilities?” “What has my life taught me I typically do when I am lonely?”
Michelle: So, what about you? Are you feeling lonely this Valentine’s Day? We’re going to talk about what to do with those feelings of loneliness on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week, I’m Michelle Hill. You know, it’s the season of red hearts, and Hallmark® sappy movies, and red roses. But for many—and maybe you’re one of those many—it’s a hard season. And February 14—which is just a few days away—you may be tempted to buy a pint of ice cream or maybe a pizza—or maybe both—and sit at home with your lights off.
You know, God created us for relationships. And there are just some seasons in life when that lack of someone can almost be—well, suffocating—and you might just get what I’m saying. Some of those seasons are: singleness; maybe death of a spouse; that space after divorce before remarriage; and maybe/maybe you’re just alone in marriage.
Well, today, I want to talk about loneliness with you. And while I’ve been there, and can probably talk about my experience, you don’t want to hear from me; so I’ve asked Ron Deal to join me today. And of course, Ron is the director of FamilyLife Blended®, so he gets stepfamilies; but he’s also a counsellor and has been for more than a quarter of a century.
[Directed to Ron] So you understand feelings, you understand emotions, and you get all that. Ron, thank you so much for joining me today.
Ron: Thank you, Michelle. It’s always good to be with you. And yes, I kind of understand those things; but you know,—[Laughter]
Michelle: You’ve studied it, though; right?
Michelle: You had to study—[Laughter]
Ron: —even my own emotions elude me oftentimes. Yes, it’s challenging. You’re/I mean, you’re open to this—is right on—like we wrestle with loneliness. I think everybody—everybody listening right now—you may not feel it in a very powerful way today, but you know what loneliness is. We’ve all been there.
Michelle: Yes, we’ve all been there. From what I’ve been reading, and researching, and stuff like that is that loneliness is becoming the new epidemic. It’s taking over—because of technology, because of our lifestyle, whatever—but it’s there.
Ron: Yes; some people say we’re more connected, because of our smartphones, than ever before.
Ron: But we’re more disconnected, because we’re not actually with people. We’re kind of texting somebody out there somewhere—whoever that, you know—and so there’s this sense of connection. It’s kind of a pseudo-connection.
Ron: And yet, it/it doesn’t necessarily satisfy.
Ron: I think there’s a lot of layers to loneliness. As you mentioned, there’s different life circumstances that people find themselves in—you mentioned divorce; you mentioned somebody who’s single for whatever reason—and we find lots of circumstances where that’s us.
By the way, I know lots of married couples—like my wife and I have had seasons where—well, we have each other—but we weren’t sure we’ve had many friends. And we certainly didn’t necessarily have deep friends—like who are the safe people that we can really spend time with, and we just be ourselves; and we just/you know, nothing’s expected—you know, all that kind of thing—and so we were lonely for friends of a certain depth.
Ron: We had acquaintances—and you know, people we could be around every once in a while at church or whatever—but it didn’t feel very fulfilling.
Michelle: Right; yes.
Ron: So there’s lots of layers to—
Ron: —loneliness. It’s a longing in us for something.
And by the way, Michelle, I think—what do you think of this?—I think there’s a distinction between “alone” and “lonely.” “Alone” is by myself—kind of in the absence of people—but “lonely” is/there’s a pain.
Ron: So it’s: “I’m lacking people/friends;”—people-around-me, what have you, connection—“and I’m aching over that.” I think that’s the difference between “lonely” and “alone.” There’s a hole in my heart; something’s lacking—I’m longing for something that’s not here—whatever that is.
Michelle: And is that necessarily bad? I mean, what do we do with those feelings when—because in some ways it feels like, “No, this is not right; I need to fill it.” And you could fill it with time and good things—and service-oriented projects—and stuff like that, but it’s still there at the end of the day; so—
Ron: Yes; right. It’s not necessarily bad. I’m so glad you said that, because I think we’re often very hard on ourselves and hard on others. You know this is a two-way street. So we we’re quick to judge other people—you know, we look at their circumstances; and sometimes, we do the comparison thing, like, “They don’t have it as bad as I’ve got it,”—you know—“I’m more lonely than you are.” And sometimes we judge people in terms of how they’re handling that.
Can I just remind our listener that Jesus, I think, had a little bit of loneliness in the garden? Three times He tried to get His disciples—“Hey would you stay and pray and support Me?”—now, no; I’m not saying Jesus was alone because, obviously, He’s talking to the Father. He is well aware of the Father’s presence. He and the Father were one, and there was a lot of connection there. And yet, he had a longing for something from His friends that wasn’t coming.
Ron: There was an annoyance, a pain, an ache—I’m not sure how to say that—so hey, you know, we can be in good company with this thing called loneliness. And so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up, necessarily, for feeling it.
Now, what we do with it—how we cope with it—yes, that can go in the wrong direction; and we might need to be aware of that. But to just do the Christian shame-thing—I/really, this is a little soapbox for me—the Christian shame-thing: “Well, you know, I should just trust God more,” “I should just be more faithful,” “If I had more faith…”—in other words, “If I were a better Christian, I wouldn’t feel lonely,”—I’m not sure that’s accurate.
We have lots of stories in the Bible/characters in the Bible—strong faithful people, who in difficult times, in certain circumstances in their life, definitely felt like: “I’m hanging out to dry here,”—like: “Who do I have around me?” “What do I have?”—that pain/that ache was clearly there.
Michelle: —which I appreciate you saying that. Because I think that, not only is it an internal struggle, but there are many times where there are people, who say to those who express feelings of loneliness: “Jesus should be enough,” “You’re not in the Word enough,” or “You’re not actively participating in the Christian discipline; so therefore, this is why you are the way you are.”
Ron: And this is where we go right back to Genesis 2 and 3 and go: “Hey, if Jesus was enough/if God was enough, Adam had everything he needed; but God noticed—
Ron: —he was alone. There was a/there was a lacking in him. And he was now aware of that lacking, and so Eve comes on the scene. So if God is enough, well, that’s never been the story from Day 1. Let’s get passed that.
I’m thinking of David—Psalm 25—he says this, beginning in verse 16: “Turn to me and be gracious to me”—he’s talking to God; he’s laid out, in the first 15 verses, quite a scenario. Something’s going on; he is really hurting over this—“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Okay, this is King David; alright?—Hello! [Laughter] You know, God’s—
Michelle: He had all these mighty men around him.
Ron: He got a family when he was young. He’s got—you know, and as king, you can pretty much have anything you want—you know? “Here I am; I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged,”—do you hear the pain? “Bring me out of my distress. Consider my affliction and my trouble and forgive all my sins.”
By the way, I think there are some insightful things in there. He is going to mention his sins—we can come back to that/talk about that in a minute—sometimes, sin is a part of our loneliness. And it’s something we need to look at, but not always.
But clearly, he is calling out to God. And you know, I think this is step one for somebody, who’s feeling the loneliness today: “Call out to God with this.” Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed or hide it; bring it to God.
Psalms 102 is another great Psalm, where the writer’s talking about their sense of loneliness. But they just pour it out, verse after verse after verse, like, “God why do I have to deal with this and this, and here’s the way it’s making me feel...” And you know, David says here, “I’m/I am in the dark here. I am afflicted; I am in trouble. I am in distress, and I need You.”
Well, you know, that should always be our first action, I think, when we have hard things in life—is bring it to God—but don’t be afraid to cry it out. You know, I think sometimes, again, we: “Well, good Christians don’t really bring anger to God. We don’t show how we really feel. We have to ‘pretty this up’ in order to pray it to Him.”
Ron: You know, I don’t think so; I don’t think so at all. I think He hears our emotion and our distress, and He wants/He wants us to bring that to Him. Just like anybody that you really, really trusted—or somebody you love and care for—you want them to bring the hard to you, because you care for them. You want to have the opportunity to hear it, and hug them in the midst of it; and I’m quite certain God does too.
Michelle: Right; well, and we’re promised that He’s near the broken-hearted; and He’s there with us. But just like, as in David’s case, and him crying out to God, I’m sitting there, going, “But what about the feelings?”—because if that’s step one, then I know that there’s more steps to it. But sometimes, those feelings in a human being are not right there.
Ron: Yes; if you’re feeling like God’s not with you either—you know, then I’m alone on all sides—I’m alone, vertically: “I can’t find God,”—I’m alone horizontally, with all the people that are lacking in my life, or whatever the ache is that I’m longing for—and so that’s hard.
I think that’s another reason to cry out to God. It’s counterintuitive, Michelle—it really is—to say, “Look, when you’re feeling disconnected from God”—you’re feeling hurt and angry over/frustrated over what’s going on in your life—“bring it to God.” I think, a lot of times, we just say, “No, we can’t do that. We’ve gotta solve it here before we…”—you know?
Ron: And so what are we doing? We’re taking all the power back, and we’re trying to rely on ourselves. And like: “How well has that served you in life so far?”—you know? For me, it’s not very good. “Cry it out to God,”—like He wants to hear it—it’s the place we take all that angst.
And the irony is: I think the more you cry/the longer you cry—and in particular, sometimes, reading Scripture—you gain a sense of: “You know, I’m not the only one. David did that, and I’m in the same boat; and look what happened to him.” And oh, by the way, a little bit later in the chapter, he says, “Yes, LORD, I/I remember all the things You’ve done for me.” David begins to, in dialogue with God, remember, and be affirmed, and feel encouraged.
And is everything fixed?—no, but he’s beginning to gain a sense of the presence of the LORD again; and so it’s kind of lifting him up a little bit. The crying out is part of the receiving of the reassurance that ultimately, “No, I’m not alone.”
Michelle: Yes. I like this first step: “Crying out to God.” And I really/I need to hear more. I know that there are many of our listeners, who are saying, “I want to hear more”; but we need to take a break.
Michelle: So when we get back in two minutes, we’ll continue on with some other steps.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. And we are diving into some deep waters today as we’ve been talking about loneliness—loneliness for different stages of life—whether it’s a death of a spouse, or it is that space right after divorce before remarriage, or singleness; or even in marriage, sometimes, that’s lonely.
Michelle: And Ron, we were talking about some steps. And that first one was: “Cry out to God.” Even when we don’t feel like He is there, it’s still one of those things that we need to do: is just to lay down our burdens, and our desires, and our wants before Him; and say, “Help me!”
Ron: Yes; bring the pain—bring it to Him—let Him hear it from you. Ask Him for help and guidance—that’s an ever-present little continual sort of prayer—you know: “LORD, help me in this,” and “Help me find contentment. Help me to be okay in the midst of this,” “Help me to trust You deeper,”—you know, all of those things, I think, are very appropriate ways of naming what’s going on—crying out to God with it—and I’m quite certain that He meets us in our point of need. And how He fills that—I’m not always certain about, you know?—but I trust that He does.
Beyond that, you know, there’s some other steps/things that we could talk about that people can do. But I just want to say, at the front of this, not all steps apply to all kinds of loneliness. You know, as we were saying at the beginning of the conversation, there’s lots of different kinds of situations people find themselves in and for different reasons. And so not everything we’re about to talk about is going to apply to every situation. People can just kind of pick the ones that are helpful for them.
Michelle: Yes; right.
Ron: So the first one we said was: “Go vertical,”—and that’s: “Cry out to God.”
I do think you have to try to address the horizontal: “What’s going on in this earth?” in terms of your sense of loneliness. One idea is take initiative to close the gap between you and other people. Now, pause for a second: “Boy, Ron, that just sounds brilliant.” So that what I’m saying is: “It’s/this may seem obvious to a lot of people; but there’s some people, listening right now, that: ‘Ron, you’re asking me to go find friends. You’re asking me to take the initiative to reach out and invite somebody to do something,’ and ‘Like I have to close the gap there?’”
Yes, we are! And for some people, that’s incredibly difficult for them to do; because of their personality—or just they haven’t done much of that in their life—you know, whatever the reason. Maybe they tried, and they got hurt; you know, there’s lots of reasons why we don’t do this.
For some people—the extraverts listening to us right now—they’re like “Ah, I’m all about that”;—
Michelle: “That’s so simple.” [Laughter]
Ron: —but for others, this is a real challenge. And you do have to push yourself. If the phone’s not ringing, you got to make the call.
Michelle: Yes; right.
Ron: The conversation my wife and I had, not too long ago, was, “You know, this friend-thing, it looks like we’re going to have to be more hospitable with intentionality. We’re going to have to get outside of some of our comfort zones and invite people into our home. We’re going to have to make it happen.”
Michelle: Well, intentionality is a hard thing.
Ron: It is.
Michelle: It’s something that takes forethought. It’s something that is/it’s almost persistent.
Michelle: Let’s move beyond that. What are some of the other steps that we can be taking as we’re trying to move beyond loneliness, and trying to work through that, because it’s a struggle.
Michelle: And they also—some of the reports are coming out that it’s [loneliness] linked to Alzheimer’s; it’s linked to high blood pressure; so we’re watching our health slowly decline—
Michelle: —in this loneliness state.
Ron: Yes; you do have to get out of it, because you’ll get depressed, eventually, if you’re there long enough. And that depresses your immune system; and then you’re more susceptible to getting illnesses and infections—and on, and on, and on it goes—so yes, I’m sure this is all tied together with our physical health as well.
Ron: “Serving others”: you know, it’s almost one of those solutions that applies to everything. When you get outside of yourself—you start doing for others—you might discover a friend in the process; but you end up feeling better, and you’ve expanded the kingdom of God in the process.
What does that look like? Yes, there’s a million service opportunities: from helping out a neighbor to going down to the soup kitchen—you know, all kinds of things that we can put our time and energy into—rather than sitting at home, wishing the phone would ring.
Ron: Another suggestion is develop routines in your life that occupy your life and your time. And I’m not just talking about: “Hey, just do crazy stuff; because then you have something to do.”
I’m talking about things that are intentional; so you know, maybe it’s you’re taking up a new hobby; or maybe you’re applying yourself towards physical exercise, something that’s going be good for you in other ways.
Put activities on your calendar. Sitting at home, again, lonely in front of the TV—wishing, longing, wanting—you know, that’s where your loneliness really comes to the surface. It becomes very clear to you that you’re in a state of being alone. But if you’re out, doing things—like, literally out of the house, engaging in activities—you end up being around people, at least, in some way; and it could be something that lifts your mood in some ways.
Now, bars are one of those places that people often go—[Laughter]
Ron: —just to be around somebody. The idea is right—I don’t know necessarily that going to bars, and just sitting and drinking, is the right idea—you get my point.
But the idea of going where people are, and filling your calendar—being out of your home, not being all alone—kind of closes the gap, at least, at some level. Does it necessarily give you a deep relationship? No, but it might be the start of that.
Michelle: Okay; I’m going to throw something in here, because there are some introverts, who are listening and going,—[Gasping sound] [Laughter]—“You don’t understand;—
Ron: Good point.
Michelle: —“I just worked all day, and I need some ‘me’ space,” or “I, at least, need some space,”—maybe it’s not about me space, but—“I don’t have the brain space to go and meet new people or serve someone else right now.” What do we do with that?
Ron: No; excellent point, because that’s very real for a lot of people. So pace yourself. You know, so not every day; but you’re going to put something on your calendar. Saturday morning, you’re going to get up; and you’re going to get out of the house. Like it or not, you’re going to make yourself do that. Or one evening a week, you know, you’re going—you’ve never been a part of your small group at a church—but man, they talk about it all the time. Maybe you actually engage in one—like you just go/like you force yourself into that—so that just is a routine that you’re trying to move towards, not every day, just once a week; but it gets you up and going.
Michelle: Good points. You got another one for us?
Ron: Yes; and you know, it’s related to what we just said about activity. In your loneliness, I think we should all examine our vulnerability in our loneliness. We all have this natural coping mechanism. When we’re feeling down, depressed, disconnected/whatever it is—in this case, lonely—most people have a “go to” coping mechanism. For some people, it’s retreating into drugs and alcohol; you know, the quick pick up—whatever that is—right?
Michelle: “What makes me feel good?”
Ron: Exactly. And there’s a thousand—we could list all of those—
We list on, and on, and on of those things that are the quick “pick up” for us.
- Some people retreat into depression: “I’m just going to sit here and sulk/feel sorry for myself.”
- Some people retreat into shame: “It must be all about me. Nobody loves me; I’m unlovable.” That kind of thinking begins to pervade.
- Or the opposite of that—blame—“Boy, it’s everybody else who’s no good, horrible, evil; all those Christians at church that are phony.”
We do a lot of interesting things when we’re retreating like that.
Ron: Well, that coping mechanism, obviously, isn’t helpful. Alright, if you’re retreating into something that’s a bad habit, that just complicates your life even more; and low and behold, you find more complications as a result of the bad habit. Things get worse.
So it’s always good to examine: “What are my vulnerabilities?” “What has my life taught me I typically do when I am lonely?” And you know what? The discipline of discipleship is: “Wow! I just got to know that that’s me. And I’ve gotta put up guardrails; and I got to say, ‘Nope, can’t do that anymore.’”
Part of planning my calendar is helping me not drift into my poor coping mechanisms/the poor behavior—some of which is sinful; some of which is just a bad idea—and so I’m protecting myself from me.
Ron: You know, I think that’s an important awareness that every person needs. We all have this; that’s part of our flesh—
Michelle: Right; yes.
Ron: —and so moving away from those things—moving towards godly activities, better people, safe people, people who are going to be good influences in our lives—those are the kinds of things you want to calendar.
Michelle: So we’re about four or five days before Valentine's Day.
Michelle: Valentine’s Day can be a “best night” of someone’s year.
Ron: Right; right.
Michelle: It could also be the worst night of someone’s year.
Michelle: What kind of advice do you have for those—who are just walking through January, February, and early March—and feeling completely alone?
Ron: Yes; so let’s apply some of the things that we’ve said. If you’re listening to this, and you’re going, “Man, I am dreading this week,”—you already know. You already know you’re already feeling alone; you’re already—the past has told you what you typically do—so you need to put up some guardrails around some things that maybe are unhealthy for you/poor decisions—and then move yourself intentionally towards things that will just be better for you.
Better coping would be: “I am going to my grandmother’s house,” and “I’m just going to hang out all day of Valentine’s and the day after, because if I don’t…” You know, whatever that is, schedule something—call a friend; take the initiative; close the gap; go where people are—engage yourself in serving other people on purpose this week. And still, you will feel that ache; but it might help you get through it; right? And you’re calling out to God, throughout the entire process, and asking for His wisdom about how you move forward.
I think it’s the combination of those things that—honestly, Michelle—sometimes, we just survive a bad day.
Ron: We don’t feel great; we don’t feel marvelous. We don’t come out of it victorious, necessarily. But we survive in a decent way/in a healthy way.
Ron: Much, much better than to let that loneliness capture you—
Michelle: —in the bottom of an ice cream carton—
Ron: There you go;—
Michelle: —per se—
Ron: —there you go; and now, you’re kind of a victim of it.
Ron: And it takes you even lower.
Michelle: And I’d also add to that: “Stay off of social media that day.”
Ron: Yes; the things that are going make you acutely aware of what’s going on; yes! That’s a part of the decision-making: “I/what I know about me is: ‘These things, in the past, really get me all up in knots;—
Ron: —“’because I see what everybody else has that I don’t have; and it just makes my loneliness inflamed.’” So right—avoid; stay away from those—again, move toward the things that are going to help you get through the day.
Michelle: Ron, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us—and talking this out with me all about loneliness—and just some of those seasons that people find themselves in.
Ron: Yes, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
Michelle: And thanks for coaching us.
Hey, next week, we’re going to have some fun; but it’s also going to be a tough conversation. You know there are many things in the Bible that we are told to do. Take for instance, the Ten Commandments: some of them are easy to follow—and some of them—well, not so much.
Well, we’re going to laugh at ourselves—and we’re going to, hopefully, encourage each other—and we’re going to hear from Elisabeth Elliot and some other folks just about some of those things that—well, we’re told to do and we don’t want to do; but yet, we have to do—just how do we do that? So some encouraging next week, you know, follow those rules and everything.
Thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins; our founder, Dennis Rainey; along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch, who never follows the rules. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff, who follow the rules because they have to. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer; and well, he loves to follow the rules. And Megan Martin is our production coordinator; and well, she just likes teaching others how to follow the rules, especially her two little girls.
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