Help for Loneliness and Depression

Ecclesiastics for Beginners. This
is lesson number seven in this series. Title of this
lesson, “One Plus One Equals Survival.” “One Plus One Equals
Survival.” And we are in Ecclesiastes. Chapter Four. Chapter four.
So as we have seen so far in our study of
Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes his life and describes it in his journal and he talks about the
different lifestyles that he has pursued in the search for happiness and
contentment apart from having a relationship with God. “Life under the
sun.” “Life under the sun.” That catchphrase means life here on Earth life without reference to God. In his experiment with wealth and power, we
talked about that last time, he concludes that life at the
top is filled with grief, oppression, envy, disillusionment many
times this is what you find when you finally get to the top, and in the section that we’re going to talk about today,
he’s going to summarize the most common feeling experienced by those
who make it to the top of any enterprise and
surprisingly, it’s loneliness. Loneliness. He discovers
that the ironic thing about loneliness is that no amount of
success can insulate one from that feeling. You can’t get rich enough to push away loneliness. You can’t have enough of the things that
will protect you from loneliness. How many times have we heard people who are
famous, world famous, everybody knows their name, and yet when they are
interviewed or when they write about their own life, they talk about being
lonely, being alone in a sea a sea of people. And so Solomon talks
about this 3,000 years ago. A very common human experience. So in these few
verses he describes the antidote for loneliness and
how this antidote, just like the loneliness itself, is available
to everyone whether you’re at the top or at the bottom. So
let’s talk a little bit about loneliness itself. The word
loneliness refers to both a perception and an emotion; something you
sense and something you feel. The perception or image of loneliness
is that of being on one’s own, without connections to other
individuals through friendship or family, or corporately through
association of shared history or ideals or objectives. One of
the most difficult problems of people who suffer culture
shock is loneliness since they’re cut off from both friends and
family as well as their country. their politics, their history, their ideals that their former dwelling provided. A
lot of talk about immigration these days in politics. What should our
immigration policy be? How can we be fair, but at the same time maintain
the law of this country? Those are difficult issues, but if you kind of
strip away the politics and just look at what it’s like being an immigrant, usually the sense of the individual who is an immigrant is loneliness. You come
from a country, never mind the Middle East, they just come from Europe or
or any other country and you come to this country, and yes there is a certain
excitement. The land of opportunity. It’s still is the land of opportunity, the land of
wealth, the land where the government is not going to come in and bulldoze your house
down. There are certain expectations for people who come from other
countries, especially countries that are poor, and make it here legally, and they say there’s like an 18 month kind of
whiplash. There’s this high that you get when you get your green card and then you finally get to
take… I know this, because I went through this having come from Canada, take the
oath of citizenship with all other people, it was amazing. There were I
don’t know a couple of hundred people
when Lize and I took our oath of citizenship and all kinds of
different people. They named all the countries, so many people from this
country and that country and the thing that I noticed the most about that
particular time was how proud everyone was to take that
oath and to get your official citizenship document, because it
takes years to do this and you have to jump through a lot of
hoops, but the whiplash usually comes 18 months after, after the high of
being in a new place and you’ve got this, an opportunity, but all of a
sudden you can’t find the ingredient that you need to make the food
that you’re used to eating back in your country. They just don’t have that
type of beans or they just don’t have that type of meat or whatever
it is and all of a sudden, boy wouldn’t it be good to have no just my
mother’s cooking, but wouldn’t it be good to have that food that is typical of the place where
you come from. One of the things that Lise and I do, and the kids as well, when we fly back
to Montreal and let’s face it Montreal is not that much different than the United States,
and yet it has its own culture, is we go on on a food vacation. In other words, when I get there, “OK, I’m going to go to The
New Verdun for Bambino pizza and then we’re going to go to St. Hubert Barbecue
for the roasted chicken and then on Thursday we’re going to this other restaurant; we go eat
our favorite foods that we cannot get here. And so the sense of loneliness is certainly felt by those who immigrate here, even in the best of circumstances. Now I can imagine in
the worst of it, if you’re like a refugee, a legitimate refugee, how difficult
that must be as well, because the further you move and the
more often you change, the greater the perception of
separateness and loneliness. So loneliness not only has a face and an
image, but it also has a heart or a feeling. As a feeling
loneliness has a range of emotions. Fear. Anger. Anxiety. Heaviness. Sorrow
Discouragement. These are all individual feelings that can be
attached to loneliness. Now the emotion of loneliness is
usually dictated by the cause of the separation. For example, culture shock loneliness, if
your loneliness is caused by culture shock, usually the way you feel, the
way you feel that loneliness, is it feels like fear, it feels like anxiety, discouragement, a sense of unreality because you’ve moved from one culture
and country that looks a certain way to another country whose language and
the buildings are different and everything’s different and so you’re processing every single day. Everything you see
and hear is different and new. And usually what happens when that happens
week after week after week, people get a sense of
unreality. So their loneliness feels like it’s not real, I can’t get
in touch with reality. That’s why people are so happy when
we’re here in the States and we happened to, I remember when Paul was, our oldest, was
playing hockey and then I would take him to practices and bump into other parents and I’d
bump into parents and we’d start talking, come to find out they were from Canada, Oh!, they were from Quebec, they wanted to speak French right away. Why? We both spoke English. We were here; just to hear the sound of French
again, because you never hear it when you’re here. Another
example, loneliness caused by forced separation, like death or divorce or dispute. That kind of
loneliness feels like anger, and fear and sorrow; still
loneliness, just the emotion is experienced differently. So loneliness is a normal part of life. It’s like a small
island that we sometimes inhabit as the seasons of our lives
change, and since our lives do inevitably change, we
need to recognize that we will eventually often visit
the island of loneliness for periods of time. The danger
is making a permanent home for ourselves on the island of loneliness. We know that we’ve been on the island of loneliness
too long when we hear ourselves say things like the following: Why don’t people love me and help me? This question suggests that we are shifting
the responsibility for our loneliness onto everyone else’s shoulders except ourselves and we begin to deal with our loneliness
by blaming other people for it. In other words, I’m lonely because of other people. Now if I go back to the immigration example, and I use myself as, “well, you know, I’m
lonely and it’s everybody else’s fault. How come nobody is…?” Well, you know what about
me? How come I’m not reaching out. Why don’t I go to the Canadians living, you know
there is a little for Canadians who are living abroad and they have potluck
dinners and they talk about Canada and hockey. Sometimes I’ve got to do
something to help myself deal with the loneliness
that I am experiencing. Another thing we say, “If only other people
realize how difficult things are for me.” This question is a cover for attention getting strategies,
“woe is me” type thing, some self-pity. Most of the times we want to get people
to listen to our problems without trying to get to solutions. As a minister I’ve experienced that a lot people
are wanting to tell me the problem that they’re having and
to explain in great detail their problem and to give all the reasons for the
problem and the only thing that doesn’t become part of our discussion
is some sort of solution to the problem. They tend to talk over me when I
begin to come back and say, “Well, you know maybe have you ever tried it…” “Oh, yeah I
tried that already” and then move on and… And so here an individual may be dealing with their loneliness
through self-pity. Another thing people hear themselves say, “Nobody
cares. I mean I’m lonely and I really am all alone in this thing.”
So this isn’t a question, it’s an attitude. It’s a kind of a
pride that assumes one’s own problems are greater and more
complex than anyone else’s problems. Here we struggle with loneliness by
wearing it as a badge somehow or a martyr complex. So we cannot get off
the island of loneliness by blaming other people for putting us
there or by sitting under a palm tree and feeling sorry for ourselves
or stoic self-resignation. We get off the island of loneliness
by calling out for help. Send up a smoke signal, drop a note in a
bottle, paddle out to the next island and see who’s there. And so getting back to Solomon and his solutions, Solomon recognized that loneliness afflicted everyone, even the people at the top,
suggesting that he too may have been lonely. Imagine. We look at these Bible characters and we idealize
them, but many times forget that they were real people, they had real emotions, real problems. So the solution to loneliness and
the feelings of alienation Solomon is talking about was the simple
acknowledgement that we need companionship. The fact that he writes about this says he
experienced this type of loneliness, but he provides a solution. And what’s
interesting about Solomon, if he is expressing the idea that he sensed, that he had a
sense of loneliness, this guy had a thousand wives! 700 wives, 300 concubines, but I mean
you’d think he’d be the last person in the world. You’d think he’d be
the first one to say look I just want to be alone. Right? But we’ve already said many times
people who are surrounded by people, servents, he had servants and
bodyguards and wives and helpers and gophers and all that business, and yet
he talks about being lonely. We cannot enjoy life to the fullest
as loners. So my point here is that sometimes we bring that
loneliness onto ourselves. People have been created to function at
their very best in the company of other people. Adam knew God and had fellowship with God
and the creation by himself, but yet until there was another human
being created to be with him, he was lonely. Have you ever noticed that in the scenes of heaven, we are not to enjoy eternity in solitary union with
God, but in fellowship with the saints, ever notice that? It’s never just, “Oh when I get to heaven
it’ll just be me and God in this wonderful relationship. I’ll be able to be
absorbed and I will know Him. He will know me. I won’t need to eat.” Notice it
says there’ll to be no tears, you won’t need food, you won’t need light, you won’t be sick
you won’t be tired, you won’t… There’ll be no sin. The one thing that it doesn’t
say there won’t be any of is other people. There will be other people, because we’re not God. God is
the only one who can be just one, who is sufficient unto Himself. He created us in such a way that we
are not sufficient unto ourselves. We need first Him, but we also need other people to be complete. So in Ecclesiastes chapter 4
verses 9 to 12, Solomon reiterates this truth, and he
gives three reasons why friends are a necessity in life and companionship is the antidote to loneliness. So
let’s read some of these verses shall we? In verse 9,
Chapter 4, he says, “Two are better than one because
they have a good return for their labor.” So Solomon, as is his usual style, states the conclusion first.
It’s better to go through life with someone else than to go it alone. So here he’s not just talking about
marriage, but every morally responsible relationship is
referred to or included here. Life is tough. We need help to get through life. Even the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone. He had Tonto, right? Robinson Crusoe, my
favorite book as a kid, I must have read it two hundred times, something
about being an only child I guess. Robinson Crusoe would not have kept
his sanity without his man Friday. You ever notice the worst
punishment for the worst criminals in jail is what? Solitary confinement, not whipping, not physical beating them up, not cutting down their food rations; if they
really want to punish somebody, they isolate them by themselves. No
contact. Little slit opens, zip, your food goes through. You’re in the solitary confinement cell 23 out of 24 hours by yourself. And that other hour,
you don’t get to go in the main yard and talk with your buddies…no, no, no! They let
you out into an empty yard so you can get some exercise and fresh air so your muscles don’t… so you don’t spend the whole day. laying around. So the cruelest of punishment is what? Making you go by yourself. Isn’t
that what we do with our children when they misbehave? “OK, that’s it,
time out. Go to your room. Just sit there by yourself and think about it.” How long do they last before they’re screaming? “I wanna go…” Three minutes. Right? On the next three verses. The
next three versus rather contain three reasons why companionship and not sex or money or power or prestige, why companionship is the answer to loneliness. So in verse 10 he says, “For if
either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to
the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” So why is it
better to go through life with a companion? Well, first he says one
encourages the other when the other is weak. We would not need friends if we never
made mistakes, if we never sinned, if we were never sick. Friends, however, are our guard against being
totally overwhelmed by either illness or troubles or circumstances in our lives. Nothing is more enjoyable than helping a
friend and nothing is more humbling and spiritually maturing than
allowing ourselves to be ministered to by our friends. A lot of times we’ll take ministry, we’ll
receive ministry from our family, our children, moms, our brother;
we’ll take it, it’s family, that’s what they’re supposed to do, but somehow it’s
always a little more difficult to accept ministry from just a friend. “Hey, your
daughter can’t take you to the hospital for your thing or whatever,
I’ll come by and drive you.” “No no no! I don’t want you to go. She’ll do it.”
—“No no no! She’s got the kids and they’ve got a thing at school. Let me come by and help you”
—“OK. Alright.” And yet when we allow allow our friends
to actually minister to us it’s very edifying. In verse 11 he says,
“Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be
warm alone?” The sum is greater than the parts. There are
things I just cannot do by myself or for myself, but can be
accomplished with the help of my friends. It can be business or the development of certain elements
in my personality. We need friends to make us whole in
various areas of our lives. We need our friends to help us raise our children. My friends help and
encourage and console me concerning my children when they were growing up. I
can remember evenings over at a friend’s house, we finally… try to get a
babysitter for four children.. try it, you go ahead and try that sometime, you’ll see that
that’s not very easy. We usually had to hire two people to come in, one to protect the other one. But anyways when we when we did get
someone to babysit and then we would go out to a
friend’s house and be able to sit and eat our meal without giving instructions
to other people on how to eat their meal and to sit there and have adult
conversation for two hours, and what did we talk about for two hours? The kids. Our kids. Their kids. Because they got a babysitter
and the four of us managed to go to the I don’t know Olive Garden or something. What did we do?
We talked about the kids. And realize that, “Hey! Wait a minute. Your
kids are driving you crazy? Hallelujah! You too?” Yeah. It’s good to have friends.
It’s good to share with them. It helps us get perspective on things in a way that just my wife and I
couldn’t. I think you know that if you’ve raised kids. If it’s just Lise and I that went out and
talked about the kids, we’d be in the same trap, but the fact
that we could kind of share with another couple the joys (it wasn’t all trouble), the
joys and the challenges of raising small children, yeah that was like
somehow for a moment we felt “yeah, we can do this. This is a good thing.” So my friends they help and they
encourage and they console me for the various challenges in my life. Verse 12a, he says, “And if one can
overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.” We need protection
don’t we? We need protection from physical and spiritual danger in
this world. I need my friend to defend me when others are
gossiping against me. [If] my car has problems, my
friends who know about cars protect me from being ripped off by some unscrupulous garage or something like that. So Solomon concludes by extending his
thought in verse 12b by saying, A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” If two friends are
good then three are even better. The point is that the way to leave
the island of loneliness is to build a bridge of escape one friend at a time. So Solomon teaches us that loneliness can strike at the top or at the bottom, but the antidote is to
cultivate companionship and we can do that at all ages can’t we?
It takes on different forms as we grow older. And he provides various reasons
why this is so. Companions help calm the storms of life, either by intervening or helping us,
even by sharing their own experiences with us to help us
understand that the storm that I’m going through is similar to the storm that
my friend is going through. And even though I cannot stop his storm
or her storm and she cannot stop my storm, the fact that we understand that
both of us are going through something difficult or similar helps us deal with the reality
that we have to deal with. As you know I’ve had the flu for a
while and there’s nothing funny about that until I walked into Marty’s office and he said,
“Don’t come any closer. I’ve got the flu,” and we both burst out laughing and then we compared coughs.
It was a moment, we had a moment. Nothing funny about that. I wouldn’t wish
it on my worst enemy, but somehow, “Oh dear, poor Marty, he’s going to to go through what I went
through for the last couple of weeks and I’ll pray for him, but somehow, yeah that’s life isn’t it? That’s life. Life is like that. We have all our aches and pains. He also says companions reassure us
when we are vulnerable, when we’re exposed, when we’re self-conscious. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to my
friend, I won’t mention names, but to try to help them accept certain weaknesses
that they have that they’re always, “Ugh. I’m such a whatever… I wish I could do
better. I’ve never been able to do this,” and my task for my friend was to
encourage that person to say, “Come on. Look at this that you’ve done and
look at that that you’ve done,” and sometimes that type of
encouragement is more believable coming from a friend.
It’s like our children we would say, I would say, to one of my daughters
or sons, “Ah! You did great. That was wonderful. I’m really proud of you,” and their
answer was, “Yeah, you’re supposed to say that, you’re my dad. I’m a winner any
which way, because you’re my dad.” And I get what he’s saying. I
remember being young when my mother used to say, “Oh that’s wonderful.” “Oh, Mom.” Nothing
to it, but if your friend, if your friend reaffirms you and tells you, “You did a great job”, somehow that has a little more meaning, because they’re not invested as your parent. So companions, they reassure us
when we’re vulnerable, when we need actual building up. And then he says companions take our part when others
try to take us apart. I remember Julia and Paul would fight and
fight (those are two eldest), they would fight and fight and fight. I was always, you know how it is, they would just, sibling rivalry. It was terrible. It was driving us crazy. Nothing one did was OK with the other. The other
would try to sink the other every chance they got. Except one day there were a
bunch of boys who were picking on Paul, he was coming home, he was trying to
get away from them. They were bigger boys and they were on top of him and they were trying to punch him and this and that and boy, Julia went out of the house like a whirlwind, jumped on
those guys like a she-tiger. You know she… Wow! “Don’t you hurt my brother.” Again, I’m not saying
anything you haven’t experienced with your family as well, but, of course five minutes later she was squealing
on him for something else to get him in trouble, but you know, we need friends to… When our friend says, “I got your back”? That’s
that’s a good thing. We need friends. I believe that more than anything else in my Christian
life, the Christian friends that Lise and I have made have been the cure for much
of the loneliness that we have experienced because of our
conversion, because of our work in the ministry, and the
many moves that we made in the the last 38 years; more
than 20 moves, that’s a lot of moving, but some friends remain constant from one move to
another, we just hung on to a certain number of friends. How many times were we the
new people in the congregation having to start all over again?
And yet somehow God was good, helped us to make friends. We have friends
in Texas and Canada. We have friends in Tennessee. Certainly in Oklahoma, so
many congregations and here at Choctaw, our home congregation for these many,
many years. Friends have managed to keep the wolf of
loneliness away from our door. I’m persuaded that many of you who have been
part of this class can relate to what I’m saying because of your
moves and your changes in your life. So I leave you with a verse from a
song, not usually what I like to do. I don’t normally quote secular poets, but this one is pretty
perfect, by Paul Simon, expresses how I have felt about our
Christian friends throughout the years, and I think it’s a familiar song, “Bridge Over
Troubled Water” when in that verse, the first verse when he says, “When you’re
down and out, when you’re on the street, When evening falls so hard, I will
comfort you. I will take your part. Oh when darkness
comes and pain is all around like a bridge over
troubled water, I will lay me down. Like a bridge over
troubled water, I will lay me down.” What a beautiful, wonderful sentiment. We cannot make
it through days of delusionment and times of
trouble without our friends, and so when it comes to loneliness, one person plus a friend equals survival. So that’s our lesson on this particular topic. It is self contained in that small passage
there. I didn’t want to start another new topic, we’ll just continue with Ecclesiastes
next time we get together. Thank you for your attention.

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