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Find the antidote to loneliness in the right place for worship for you

By Judy Knotts
Special to the American-Statesman
Judy Knotts is a parishioner of St. John Neumann Catholic Church and former head of St. Gabriel's Catholic School and St. Michael's Catholic Academy. Her newest book, "You Are My Brother," is a collection of past American-Statesman faith columns.

Are you lonely? Many folks are. Elena Renken writes: “More than three in five Americans are lonely” according to a study by health insurer Cigna. “And loneliness is on the rise. The report found a nearly 13% rise in loneliness since 2018 when the survey was first conducted.” (NPR 1/23/2020)

 Studies of loneliness vary to some extent in their findings; however, experts agree on one thing — loneliness affects our mental and physical health.  

Why is this happening? Some people leave their homes perhaps in search of a better life. Marriage often takes an individual or a couple to another state or country. Jobs might demand re-locating. These migrations often lead to extended families living far apart. Remote working, a pandemic solution, isolates. Some of these situations can cause loneliness — a sense of being alone, un-known, and un-loved.  

Furthermore, large work places seem to grow cubical by cubical. Co-workers come and go. Rare is the employee who stays with one company, one school system, or one nonprofit organization for an entire career, so establishing long-term relationships with colleagues is challenging. 

Social media has changed our lives, too. Let’s face it. We like the ease of connecting with others at the touch of a button, yet we frequently have fake relationships. One hundred Facebook friends might "like" us when we post happy doings, but will they be there for us when things are not so cheery?   

Extroverts fight creeping isolation by joining knitting, cooking or book groups even if it has been by Zoom this past year. These busy folks might not realize it, but it is the sense of belonging which matters making their lives less lonely and healthier in mind and body. Introverts just hunker down.  

For all of us, the introverts and the extroverts, joining a church, temple or mosque might help ease loneliness while bringing us closer to our creator. To join a faith community, we don’t have to be holy. We don’t have to sing well. We don’t have to be smart or able to quote Bible verses, read the Torah or the Quran. We just have to want to belong to a spiritual community, to be with people who accept us as we are and inspire us to be Godly good neighbors. 

Besides people who have moved to a new locale or job, loneliness can target college freshman, new moms, caregivers, CEO’s, single people of all ages, homeless citizens, and those in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  

Most of our houses of worship have been closed for the past year because of the pandemic, but with vaccinations becoming more and more available, they will be returning to in-person services at some point. 

For people who are able to get out, there is nothing sweeter than deciding to attend a worship service and then finding smiling greeters at the door saying, “Welcome.” The home-bound need us to go to them to ease their loneliness.  

With the scare of the coronavirus, we are advised to forgo shaking hands in greeting, but we can still show solidarity in a place of worship. The widow with no one special in her life and the adolescent boy sitting near her who feels awkward with everyone, can still acknowledge each other shyly. The homeless man in the back row can get a friendly nod from the police officer who has come in late for the service. The husband and wife who bicker a lot and struggle to communicate, can risk looking into each other’s eyes in this sacred safe space. 

Those who feel they live outside the Hallmark circle — the poor, the handicapped, the foreigner, the LGBT individual can feel they belong to the family of man with a simple heartfelt recognition of their existence from others — a bow, a smile or a small wave.   

We can pray in our own room surely, but we need each other to grow, to be our best selves.

Maybe we start by searching for a place of worship, then the goodness of a faith community will begin to wash over us without us even knowing it. Grace will flow to us in abundance.  

When people who don’t have to love you — love you, it changes everything.  

Judy Knotts is a parishioner of St. John Neumann Catholic Church, and former head of St. Gabriel’s Catholic School and St. Michael's Catholic Academy. Her book, “You Are My Brother,” is a collection of past American-Statesman faith columns.