The Loneliness Epidemic (#652)

There wasn't even a word for loneliness in the English language prior to the 1800s, now 40% of people report feeling lonely. Social scientists are calling it an epidemic with tragic consequences—living with loneliness increases your odds of dying early by 45%. Wayne invites Tracey Levinson, friend, author of unashamed, and occasional God Journey guest, to join him for a conversation about this remarkable trend, and how we can fight our way through it to more meaningful connections with God and with other people. Building friendships is a valuable tool for everyone, and learning to reach out to those 40% of lonely people around you will be not only an incredible gift to them, but also to you.

Podcast Notes:
Article: One is the Loneliest Number
Previous podcasts with Tracy
Tracy's book, unashamed: candid conversations about dating, love, nakedness, and faith
Wayne's Travel Schedule
The latest news from our project in Kenya
Add your voice to our question/comment line via Skype at "TheGodJourney"


  1. Ah the divine difference between loneliness and aloneness – the former a lack of relationship, whereas the latter fuels relationship.

  2. I am the classic example of a male in their 40s going through isolation and lonliness. I hardly see anyone
    but my brother once a week. Failed relationships, family members dying, best friend dying are parts of what have contributed to this. Worse thing is that in the last few months I developed arthritis in my feet and had to give up running. I am in pain alot of the time and find it hard to not give into total despair (and suicidal thoughts). Probably most frustrating in all of this is that I’ve read books like Wayne’s books since around the year 2000 and also other great books on the move of people leaving the IC for more organic forms yet find it seemingly impossible to find anything like this in my city of Adelaide, Australia. It seems like trying to find the invisible man in a dark alley. I’ve virtually given up believing that finding this type of relational christianity is possible at least in my part of the world. In the last year I’ve even resorted to going back to a regular IC a number of times, but find my ‘yuck’ meter goes off constantly and cannot see myself fully embracing that world again. I’ve also read many many books on God’s love since about 1997 and yet the ‘penny’ never really dropped in my spirit. So many good books- probably over a hundred – including the recent great book ‘Breaking the Hex’ by the Fields Bros. I need God’s grace to help me receive his grace. I feel like a total failure and if I die right now God will be disappointed with me. I have had such a huge knowledge in my head and heart of the grace message and passion about these things for a long long time, yet because I’ve been in a desert for 20 to 25 years I’ve not done much at all – certainly nothing compared to what I feel I was meant to do. And Yes I’ve read great books on being free from condemnation – yet the penny has never really dropped. I’ve been praying desperately lately – sensing that either God’s going to free my finally, or my life will come to an end.

    I haven’t listened to this yet.. Will do in next couple days. I’ve watched some Youtube clips about this epidemic and it is a global issue. So many people live alone or don’t see many people at all.

    • Jeremy, my heart goes out to you and I’m so sorry you’re going through such a rough time! Loneliness is absolutely brutal! It will suck the motivation for life right out of you and even though one can see what’s happening to themselves, it feels nearly impossible to get out of it. Questions of, “what is the point?” and ” why bother?” start taking over.

      Like you, I’m another classic example of a male in his 40s going through loneliness (living alone, however, I do have some friends who are very loving and kind and accepting). Also like you, I have read so many books speaking of this reality and revelation of love and belonging and being known and acceptance… but for now all they remain is a good sentimental story speaking of a revelational reality that I do not know beyond head knowledge. It almost feels worse reading and listening of this amazing love of god, like a big set up, only to not know that love, and then hear others say that they do.

      Again, my heart goes out to you and I wish you could experience a different reality that was undeniably real and not just a good story in a book.

  3. Hi Jeremy. I started driving for Uber and Lyft. Lots of stories to share but I have given 3300+ rides with only one bad one. I run late at night. Don’t know if this helps but it has for me.
    Back to work.


  4. This whole discussion hits me right where I live. Thank you soooooooooo much for this great discussion.

    Some of us who are shy, have a lot of difficulty making friends, and it’s also difficult to intentionally keep up with the friends we already have. When you live in a rural area, it’s difficult to drive to a friends house when those friends live nearly an hours drive away, and many friends that are in my local area are busy with jobs, family, and the general busyness of life. This is especially difficult for those of us (like me) that are shy, or depressed, or both. This becomes even more difficult when family and other friends in your area have animus toward you for leaving the institutional church, and some like to occasionally take the opportunity to be verbally abusive toward you, or make snide remarks about you for leaving the institutional church.

    I even had a dream a couple of nights ago where I talked to Wayne about this subject of my family having animus toward me and being verbally abusive. In the dream, Wayne was very kind and understanding and told me to try to get away from those abusive situations and move on. In real life, I am trying to distance myself from those abusive situations more and more these days. Unfortunately, it means my family is becoming more and more estranged from me as time goes by.

    -Lenny (Bailey, NC)

  5. Hi Jeremy,
    Thank you for your honesty, your words sounded very familiar to me. I spent years reading books and hearing others talk about about The fathers love and Gods grace but it was just head knowledge for me. For many years my wife and i housed ex offenders and as i shared the cross and Gods love with the guys they just got it, i mean really got it. I was so happy for them but i would still feel disconnected and unable to remain in Gods love, restless, frustrated and confused. As you described the penny never dropped, it felt like God held a carrot on a stick in front of me that was always in sight but continually out of reach. That combined with some sin issues that i couldn’t get a handle on brought me to a place of despair, i found some freedom through some counselling but the shift that really impacted my life was that i gave up trying to find Gods love, The Bruce Almighty film has a great pray in it ” You win, I’m done, I can’t do this any more” that led into a lengthy confusing season where my attitude, belief was God I’ve got nothing left and i don’t know how to walk with you or how your connecting with me, talking to me or loving me. That season was messy but worth every second of it as now i have rest, i have my best mate Jesus with me. I was struggling this Friday with work and shouted at Jesus “what do you know about stress” and he replied as he had now done a thousand times “I love You Jon” some how those words speak into my heart everything i need to hear. Jeremy, i have been listening to The God journey for many years and this is the first time i have commented – don’t give up mate, i guess Jesus won’t do it the same way with you as he has with me but i am now convinced that Holy spirit is a genius at untangling us and connecting with us, the books are ok but we really just need him.

  6. I have dealt with loneliness and mild depression over the years. It truly does lead us to isolation, especially if we have come to believe the lie of the enemy that we are not worthy.
    I read the book by Staci Eldredge a few years back Becoming Myself and she has a chapter on the friendships of women. I later was at a very low point when I felt so unworthy and wanting to isolate myself and pull away. I remembered that chapter and actively chose to seek out a friend to spend time with. To stop believing the lie that I was unworthy and needed to ‘protect’ the world from myself.
    This is exactly where the enemy wants us – isolated and alone. We need each other to reflect God’s truth back to us. When we are alone, we too easily fall into the trap of the enemy and believe his lies. God HAS created us for community – we, as his body, need each other to feed into each other and reflect back.

  7. I am doing some wondering out loud here. In reading the article “One is the Loneliest Number” I began to wonder why is loneliness considered to be such a negative. I know that we are relational creatures, and that even God said it is not good for man to be alone. There is a God-given desire to be “known”.

    But we also live in a society where people are disproportionately pursuing significance. People need to be needed, they need to be valued, they want to be wanted and desired. Some of this could be considered reasonable, but I think we live in an age where it has been pushed to the extreme. Any lack spells failure for the individual who cannot get it. In an age where there is so much comparison, it becomes easy to think you are not like others.

    An illusion has been created by advertising, film and social media that a person can only be happy when you have friends and a certain “lifestyle”. This happiness fantasy permeates the world around us. Perfect people with perfect friends in the perfect location having the perfect beer, and being happy. We are less than if we do not have it. If we did not have this grand illusion in front of us all the time, could it be that we would be able to think differently about aloneness.

    I used to hate being alone, filling my life with projects and church programs in order to be busy, and often friendship were simply relationships based around a common purpose. Quietness and aloneness were not attractive because I began to hear the inner voice, and it was a scared little boy with a lot of hurts, and I did not want to spend time with myself. I think perhaps that fearful inner voice is the source of anguished aloneness?

    And is it fair to impose on others that they are to be the solution to your aloneness. Sounds a bit co-dependent to me.

    My relationship with Jesus has brought healing where I can enjoy aloneness and solitude, and listen to that inner voice. I long for aloneness at times when there is too much craziness happening. In that secure place of begin comfortable with myself and my inner voice, and knowing that I am with Him, my pursuit of relationships becomes an adventure that is not based in resolving a gnawing angst of abandonment, or a desperate need to be recognized. This allows relationships to simply “be”, there is freedom for both to give or not to give, with no demand from the other.

    And when thoughts of loneliness do come, I talk to Jesus about it, trusting that He know what I need and will provide it at the right time. Perhaps when aloneness happens, we can receive it as a gift? Maybe the desert the Lord leads us into for a time? That sound so spiritually cliché, but time and time again, I come back to the fact that I am to trust Him, rest in Him and let that inner me commune with Him. I trust He will provide me with what I need, perhaps aloneness, perhaps relationships.

  8. We are all in different corners of the earth, yet we’re all so close in our experiences. I turned 30 this past year and moved from Oregon to Ohio for my husbands work. I’m really close with my family and this move has been tough on me. Recently rejected from a nursing school for missing the required entry score test percentage by 2 points… needless to say I’m broken: I’m also alone because my husband travels for work a lot. I feel lonely, sad and like a failure. I google searched this tonight before posting on here: “what’s the point, why live anymore?” Psalm 139 is my favorite verse and has been since a young child… but why I can’t I grasp the words anymore?? I’m numb and broken. Looks like I’m not alone. We need answers and help. God save us please!!

    • FROM WAYNE: My heart breaks for you, Kristie. It isn’t easy to be in a new place and not know anyone. Friendships take a while to develop. I was talking with someone yesterday (for a future podcast) about living in the adventure of following him. Especially when it seems like everything has gotten broken around us, that’s the best time to realize you are on an adventure with him. Out of your comfort zone and in a strange land (I married an Ohio lady, so that’s not a shot at Ohio!) gives God a lot of room to invite you into a closer space and to connect you to people who need to be loved by someone like you. If you can wrap your heart around that, you’ll be able to see the doors God wants you to walk through and the people he will give you to love there. So, ask him to show you. Where can you go to meet people? What are your hobbies, your passions? Don’t just stay home alone, find places to be that enrich your lives with people. And if you’re really having suicidal thoughts, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE call a hot line or find a counselor to help your sort through this. There are a million reasons to keep on living and being a blessing to others around you. You are gift in the world and God is inviting you on a new adventure of learning to be you. Remember, every friend you had in Oregon was a stranger at one point. Getting to know them made them friends… I pray God will open a door and lead you by his grace into a new adventure full of joy and purpose.

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