A recent article caught my eye, “A Solution for Loneliness” by Kasley Killam in Scientific America. One of the suggestions provided in the article was volunteering, with reason being, it “fills our deeply rooted need for belonging.”
As a Catholic, I try to look at situations and challenges through the lens of faith. I was surprised to see a secular article make such a statement. To me that sense, the deeply rooted need for belonging, is more the search for God. However, we look at our physical world to fulfill that need. As Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts our restless until they rest in you.” God is always there calling to us, calling us to a deeper relationship with Him. No matter where we are in our faith journey, as a human, we can never fully know God, so there is always more to learn and experience.
As we experience this longing for something, even if we don’t know what it is, usually we first look at filling that need with external things. Basically, we look for things to make us happy. Once we realize that things don’t make us happy, then we look outside of ourselves, to others. This is where loneliness can become an issue. If we look for people (or pets) to fill the need or ease the ache of being alone, we can become dependent on them. When situations change and the people or pets we relied on are no longer able to be with us, the need surfaces, often with a greater intensity.
I can see why a solution to loneliness would be to volunteer, but I would describe different reasoning than the article. To me, volunteering is acknowledging that life is not about me, but what I can do for others. Volunteering is giving one’s self to another not because it benefits us, but that it is our gift to those we help. When we give away the gifts God has given us, especially things like time and talent, He can fill us up. As Jesus gave up His life so that we can have life in Him, the more we give of ourselves, the deeper we can get to know Jesus. It’s hard to be lonely when we are not thinking of ourselves, but rather what we can do for others.
For the times when the thought of being alone crosses our mind, we can reach out to the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of God comes to us when we pray, when we receive Holy Communion and any other sacrament. He will remind us that we are never alone when we rest in God.