By Diane E. Arnold, MA, LPC
The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.
– Mother Theresa
Katie Barker of Tweed Coast, Australia, released a prophetic word in March of 2019 telling us:
The Lord is restoring families and the key role of the family. One of the greatest ploys of the enemy has been the degradation of family, and with this has come a departure from the fullness that was intended for God’s people. The Lord continued to tell her, “As a sign of all I will do in restoring families, and as a sign of the importance I place on family, I am raising up not just couples who walk in My love and power, but families. These families operate in the power of My Spirit from a foundation of love.”
To every parent or grandparent who has struggled with family hurt, pain and alienation, these words bring us hope and joy. We can all feel it—we live in a world where we must choose a side on almost every issue. We are reminded almost weekly how disconnected we have all become.
We contend that we cannot have true family reconciliation and cultural transformation without significantly reversing this trend. We need solid solutions for succeeding in our families and creating community or “common-unity.”
Epidemic is a word that we associate with devastation of Biblical proportions; Old Testament destruction that shakes a culture. It is the perfect word to use for the issues we are facing as a result of people living outside of community. Social scientists have told us that isolation, alienation and loneliness are at all-time highs; and the negative repercussions can be seen and felt across all racial, age and socioeconomic lines. We are now discovering that the effects of lonely, isolated people are profound on society.
In June of 2016, Fortune magazine published an article that summarized isolation research and told us that in small doses, loneliness can be a valuable tool that enables us to read social cues. For example, your social relationships can and will suffer if you continue to treat your relationships in a negative way. But long-term isolation is actually dangerous. Researchers have discovered that if left untreated, it can have serious medical and long-term relational consequences.
Perhaps the most shocking statistics around loneliness involve the physical effects that it has on the body. Vivek Murthy, the former US surgeon general, has written that loneliness and social isolation have the same physical effects on us as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is an even greater health risk than obesity. Here is a real tough one: loneliness increases our odds of an early death by 26 percent.
How does loneliness cause us so many problems? It involves a set of related physical mechanisms. For example, loneliness increases vascular resistance. This is what moves blood to the muscles and heart. This type of reaction is very helpful when there’s a real threat. However, consistently lonely individuals display this over the course of a normal day. As you age, this reaction translates into an increase in blood pressure.
Loneliness also raises the base-line levels of cortisol, which is a powerful stress hormone. Researchers have found that an increase in cortisol levels in animals can cause their organs to give out earlier than normal.
Then there’s the sleep problem. A handful of studies have shown that when you’re lonely, your brain remains alert for threats, and you show more micro awakenings or sleep fragmentation. In other words, the result is poor REM sleep. It is interesting that if you are feeling isolated or lonely, your brain remains on high alert, even if your spouse is in bed next to you.
One of our greatest struggles is that loneliness puts the brain into self-preservation mode. (Think of sitting in a dark cave where you would be watching for anything that moved.) The mind at this point is looking for danger. While this is happening, the area in the brain responsible for compassion and human responsiveness also becomes less active. Again, because we are in survival mode, we are centered on our own needs and have little time for the problems of others.
So, if I am isolated, my awareness of my surroundings goes up but my responsiveness or my need for connection to others goes down.
Let’s pretend I am back in that cave alone, and I begin doubting or blocking interaction with others. Even if someone tried to join my cave, my brain is telling me to look out. It is better to avoid that friendship, because it might get in the way of my need to survive. Why? Because it might turn out that those friends are really enemies. If I believe they are enemies, then I may get hurt trying to form a connection.
Why does loneliness cause this reaction? We contend it is because humans were not designed to be solitary creatures. As social animals, we survive because we form bonds. The bottom line is this: humans don’t do well if they’re alone. Research tells us the absence of consistent social connection triggers the same physical alarms in us as hunger, thirst and physical pain.
We all see the recent societal impacts of escalating discord. It appears we no longer discuss differences; we protest and then escalate the war of words. Tragically, some of these demonstrations and rallies result in violence. We are all affected and saddened by the vicious and heartbreaking results when isolated and alienated people act out their perceived grievances in very public ways. Leading psychologist Rollo May stated: “Violence is the ultimate destructive substitute that fills the vacuum when there is no relatedness.”
In contrast, the city of Sardinia has proven to be an example of the fruit of staying connected. Dr. Giovanni Pes conducted research in this region of Italy. He discovered an extraordinary high number of both male and female adults over the age of 100. These participants reported to be in excellent health. They did not take much, if any, medications and were astoundingly lucid. Dr. Pes observed that, “family and relationship connectedness resulted in long life for this population.” He also concluded that the elders in this region were valued as a resource to the generations after them.
Even if we do not know or like our family of origin, our Western society is not disqualified from this same blessing. All this transformation requires is willing mothers and fathers to take a stand and challenge the cultural assault on our families.
The Bible emphasizes that we are mandated to go into the world and impact others. We are also all called to walk in the authority we have in Christ. In this season, He is drawing us back to this relational discipleship.
Katie Barker continues her word from God:
I am raising up families who will minister together. These families will be markers of all I will bring forth in My Body, for I desire to see spiritual mothers and fathers equipping and releasing those coming after them into the fullness of the destiny I have for them. I desire to see an honoring of the path pioneered by the previous generation. Unity will be the hallmark of these families and it will flow from a solid foundation of love and a firm standing on the truth of My Word. Watch for the rise of these families.
God views the turning of hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents as something vitally important. It is one of the keys to lasting revival. As we prepare for the great harvest of souls that is coming, the Lord is bringing the restoration of families. God’s wish is for those mature in Christ to teach and equip those new in faith. “And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:17 ESV)
The glory of God is about to be released on families, and many will be impacted by the love and power of God. May we take up the invitation to partner with the Lord in stewarding these testimonies of restoration and reconciliation. May we be vessels through which the love and healing of God influences those who have been wounded. May we partner with the Lord in calling home the prodigals. The Lord is raising up mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers who have declared, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15 NIV). The way these spiritual families minister together will ignite a cultural movement of connection, acceptance and belonging for multiple generations.
Barker, K., “The restoration and rise of families!”, Elijah’s List, March 2019.
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Entis, L, “Chronic Loneliness is a modern-day epidemic”. Fortune Magazine, June 22, 2016.
Heing, R., “Lonely brains (like mine) are their own worst enemies”. Psychology Today, August 11, 2014.
Layden EA, Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S, Cappa SF, Dodich A, Falini A, Canessa N, “Perceived social isolation is associated with altered functional connectivity in neural networks associated with tonic alertness and executive control”. Neuroimage, January 2017, 145:58-73.
Diane is a licensed counselor in South Carolina. Her primary focus is marriage, family and relationship struggles. Diane is a member of the American Counseling Association, the American Association of Christian Counselors and the local chapter of OSL. Diane serves on board of the Christian Mental Health Network of South Carolina. She is also one of the directors of “The Grace Center”, a healing and deliverance ministry. Diane and her husband, Neal, have been married for 36 years and have three adult children. They have written two books. Take Heart is a snapshot of the integration of spiritual and psychological healing. Their latest Kingdom objective is to better demonstrate God’s love, wisdom and power through family healing and generational ministry. Through their non-profit, “The Family Collective,” Diane and Neal continue to write and speak on the importance of family, business and leader restoration.