Lonely Lady

April 05 2018 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I am writing to you because I’m really tired of this life I am living. I am beginning to feel increasingly lonely. I am a widow with three grown up children, and work from dawn to dusk. I work as a cleaning lady in the offices of a big bank. This is hard work and I don’t get much satisfaction out of it. I am living like a robot. I wake up, go to work and come back home. As I have no real friends, I am left with only the TV or the internet. I have tried to get to know people through social networks, but I only met men who just wanted sex, without any real desire of knowing anything about me as a person. All of this has just made me feel even more lonely. I go to Mass every Sunday, but I find that even the parish is cold and unwelcoming. I would be grateful if you could help me.


You are describing the latest epidemic to be plaguing our society: loneliness. For example, a recent study by the American Association of Retired Persons found that 43 percent of people in the US over 45 are “chronically lonely.” That translates to approximately 42.6 million people in the US alone. To put this in perspective, that’s a larger number than the entire population of Canada (approx. 36.6 million) and almost the entire population of Spain (46.3 million). The impact of loneliness on health and well-being can be devastating. Another recent examination of research representing 3.4 million across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, found that loneliness may be a bigger factor in premature death than obesity, increasing one’s pre-mature mortality risk by 50 percent. God’s observation in Genesis is truer than we might initially think, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

The good news is that loneliness can be terrifically easy to treat if we are willing to open our hearts. The Church tells us that we “find ourselves by making a gift of ourselves.” Our natural desire when we are struggling with loneliness is to long for someone to be there for us. While this is completely understandable, giving into this natural tendency creates a chasm of isolation in which millions of hurting people can occupy the same space, but be so consumed by their own wounds that they fail to make any meaningful connection with the people around them.  Paradoxically, it is only when we stop asking, “When will I find someone who will start taking care of me?” and instead ask, “How can I make a gift of myself to others?” that we can begin to fill our hearts with the love we have been seeking all along.

When people first hear this, they often react defensively. They feel like they’re so tired already that they have nothing left to give. We’re afraid that if we give any more, then the little energy we have left to take care of ourselves at the end of the day will be spent, and we will be left with nothing. Or we’re afraid that if we create connection by reaching out to others, we will be stuck in relationships with users who only know how to take and never give back.

In fact, the opposite is true. The more we look for ways to make a difference in the lives of others, the more we draw people to us as the light of Christ shines out of us and inspires others to give what they can to us. The world is filled with people who are waiting for someone to make the first move. Christ gives us the grace to be the ones to fill that gap.

I understand that you are tremendously lonely and I believe, with all my heart, that God wants to fill that emptiness in your life. I encourage you to begin praying for ways that you can make a consistent difference in the lives of others. Contact your pastor and tell him that you would like to become involved in a parish ministry. Contact your local hospitals, schools, or community organizations and let them know that you are interested in volunteering for various projects that would allow you to make a difference in the lives of others. 

If you follow through on my suggestion, I think you will find that the people you are helping, rather than being beneath you or not having anything to give back, will be more like you than you imagined. And you will find that others are only too happy to begin giving back in ways that will surprise you.

Updated on April 05 2018