Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we could ever have, yet too often gets overlooked as an essential need for our human nature, coming behind only oxygen, water, food, and God himself. A typical response when asked about the vitality of one’s friends may surmount to a simple, “Oh yeah, I love my friends. They’re pretty great. What’s the big deal?”
The fact friendship is tossed off as not that big of a deal reveals how big of a deal it really is.
Friendship is so inherent to daily life that we don’t even think twice about what deep inner workings could be taking place between these relational bonds on every level of the human psyche—including our spirits. We are so accustomed to friendship that we rarely pause long enough to consider its necessity for this life—until we find ourselves in a season when it’s nowhere to be found.
We are designed for community. Every part of our human nature is meant to live in significant relationships with others. But what happens when we live a lonely life, contradicting this inherent ingredient to our God-given design?
The consequences are catastrophic.
Psychologist Amy Banks writes that “the human brain is built to operate within a network of caring human relationships, but when we are cut off from others, these neural pathways in our brains suffer, resulting in chronic irritability, anger, depression, addiction, and chronic physical illness.” Loneliness increases stress levels, making you more liable to act upon unhealthy impulsive behaviors, like eating sugary foods or other addictions, and, it lowers your sleep quality, which is meant to set you up for a good day ahead of you.
Here’s the craziest part, though. When you’re isolated, your brain goes into a hyper-awareness for dangerous social environments. Loneliness naturally draws you to interpret people’s actions as negative ones that are out to get you. This is because your body has gone into self-preservation mode. You’re constantly looking for the next “foe” at all times, whether you realize it or not, interpreting everybody’s interactions as potential threats. This is why studies are showing that lonely people are much more distrusting of others, making them bitter, cynical, pessimistic, and all together unpleasant to be around.
But wait – it gets worse.
Because loneliness puts the brain in a constant mode of self-protection for an extended period of time, the wear and tear from such a stressful state on both your brain and your body can even result in early death.
Just to put things in perspective: You have a 5% chance of early death by being exposed to air pollution. You have a 30% chance of early death due to excessive drinking. And the percentage for increased odds of early death for loneliness?
Some studies are even saying that living in a constant state of loneliness has the same strain on the human mind and body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Clearly, it’s not good to be alone. And to top it all off, the friendless life is still plaguing people all across the globe, and it is particularly prevalent in our American culture. A Gallup poll has ranked Americans to be amongst the loneliest people in the world. This sounds crazy at first—but it isn’t all that surprising when you consider everything our culture prioritizes and values. We live in a culture that naturally steeps a lifestyle of isolation and loneliness—and it has detrimental effects on nearly every area of our lives.
We have a loneliness epidemic sweeping our nation.
But what is it exactly about our culture that contributes to the injustice of a friendless life? Before we dive into the role The BFFs Church has to play in the matter, we must first develop a further understanding of the problem at hand from a cultural standpoint. This is our topic of discussion for next week.
- For more on the lethality of loneliness, check out this extremely informative TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0hxl03JoA0