Aled Jones explores how people are finding ways to cope with loneliness and introduces some heart-warming hymns.
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MUSIC: "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles
Pop songs. Whilst loads of them are about love,
there are quite a few about the opposite side of the coin - loneliness.
So, how many can you think of? Roy Orbison's Only The Lonely.
Bobby Vinton's Mr Lonely.
If you're younger, the version by Akon, the Streets of London.
Or Eleanor Rigby with its famous line, "all the lonely people."
On this week's Songs of Praise, we explore loneliness.
On today's Songs of Praise -
most of us experience it, but nobody talks about it.
Why is loneliness so taboo?
The charity tackling isolation in Oxfordshire,
plus some favourite hymns from around the country.
MUSIC: "Only The Lonely" by Roy Orbison
There don't seem to be hymns on this jukebox.
But I have thought of three more songs about loneliness.
Irving Berlin's You're Lonely And I'm Lonely,
Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
and of course, Are You Lonesome Tonight.
But someone was writing songs about loneliness
long before Irving and Hank.
David wrote psalms to God in times of isolation.
Psalm 142 was written when David was hiding in a cave.
As a fugitive travelling alone, he felt vulnerable.
"There is no-one at my right hand," he says.
"No-one is concerned for me."
He implores God to listen to his cry for he's in desperate need.
But in his most famous psalm, David is less fearful.
He describes the Lord as his shepherd.
The Psalms show us that loneliness isn't a new phenomenon.
You might be surprised to learn that in this age of 24/7 communication,
society actually seems to be getting lonelier.
Statistics point to rising levels of loneliness,
and not just amongst the elderly.
A large number of young people feel lonely, too.
So, why do we feel lonely?
Is it something we only feel when we're on our own?
Or is it possible to feel lonely when you are surrounded by people?
To use that old cliche, can you feel lonely in a crowd?
Author Simon Parke is content to spend
most of his time in solitary pursuits, running and writing.
A bit of a change from his previous careers.
You've been a vicar, you've worked in a supermarket.
Both jobs, I would imagine, involve other people being social.
-And then you go and write a book about solitude.
Well, I think in a way, the more active your life,
the more important it is that you find solitude.
What's the difference between solitude and loneliness?
Well, I think loneliness is an unhappy state.
It's a state of feeling isolated.
It feels like a punishment.
Whereas, of course, solitude is like a clearing in a jungle.
And in this clearing is a sense of peace, harmony,
happiness with yourself.
Can you actually feel lonely in a crowd?
It's strange, isn't it?
I think a lot of people are lonely in a crowd.
You know, you hear people saying, "I was at a party last night,
"but, you know, I just didn't feel I belonged."
It's hard to believe that loneliness can exist in this 21st century
when we lead such busy lives.
-Things happening around us constantly.
Perhaps that's why. I mean, I think maybe that is why.
Because in a way, we're trained, I think we're trained for loneliness.
You hear of parents... It's an active world,
so parents think, "If I'm going to be a responsible parent,
"I must make my children active."
"So I must take them to football and tae kwon do,"
and whatever else they take them to and,
"Let's give them a computer in their bedroom
so they can distract themselves with that."
And, of course, so we grow up designed for an active world,
but, of course, what we're not designed for
is to face the times when we're alone.
We have an in-built terror of actually being alone
because no-one has ever said, "It's OK to be alone."
I'm imagining a scenario where you end up alone
and you search deep within yourself
and you find out that actually you don't like yourself very much
and you don't like being alone. How do you handle that?
Yeah. I think that's a very real issue for people.
And, of course, to be helped with that,
you need to see that actually that's a message that someone else put inside you.
So you weren't born thinking that.
Why would anyone be unhappy about themselves?
We're born in the image of Christ, in the image of God.
So perhaps we start by accepting ourselves.
Allowing ourselves to be as we are, who we are.
Allowing the whole package.
And, er... And maybe then,
you know, the seed beneath the snow.
The seed of love begins to grow.
# Some say love, it is a river
# That drowns the tender reed
# Some say love, it is a razor
# That leaves your soul to bleed
# Some say love, it is a hunger
# An endless, aching need
# I say love, it is a flower
# And you, its only seed
# It's the heart afraid of breaking
# That never learns to dance
# It's the dream afraid of waking
# That never takes the chance
# It's the one who won't be taken
# Who cannot seem to give
# And the soul afraid of dying
# That never learns to live
# When the night has been too lonely
# And the road has been too long
# And you think that love is only
# For the lucky and the strong
# Just remember in the winter
# Far beneath the bitter snows
# Lies the seed that with the sun's love
# In the spring becomes the rose. #
Right through the Bible, you'll find people who are lonely.
I've mentioned David and the Psalms.
There's also Hagar, cast out into the wilderness
after conceiving Abraham's child.
There's Job, lonely in his grief and suffering
and perhaps even Moses and the loneliness of leadership.
One of the loneliest pictures is of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
that night when all his friends had fallen asleep.
The long walk to the cross and then that heartfelt cry of,
"Why have you forsaken me?"
Many things can cause someone to feel lonely,
including not finding the right partner to settle down with,
as Helena Wilkinson discovered.
I think I've had different times in my life where I've been lonely,
right through from childhood.
I was lonely as a young child at times.
I'm registered partially sighted,
and that set me apart and made me a bit different.
Then when I went to boarding school, I was very badly bullied.
That made me feel incredibly lonely.
In my 20s, I guess, you know, you're adjusting,
you're finding your identity,
you're hoping you're going to find somebody.
Your friends are just beginning to get married,
then somebody has the first baby and, "It hasn't happened to me."
And that's an incredible sense of loneliness sometimes.
Then you hit your 40s and it's like, "Biological clock now is ticking."
And, "Is that guy ever really going to come into my life?"
Do you think we are actually put on this Earth to be with partners?
I think in many ways, yes, we are made to have a partner.
Because, you know, male and female are like two halves, aren't they?
To come together as one whole.
-You know, when you feel loved, you feel less lonely.
I mean, it sounds crazy, you can even feel like that with an animal.
You feel loved by your dog and you don't feel so lonely.
When you were single, you were lonely, were you craving marriage?
Because I think for a lot of single people, they see it as the ultimate.
It's... Everybody longs to be loved, don't they?
And so I think there are an awful lot of single people out there
who feel a crushing sense of loneliness
because they look at other people and they see love.
They see people holding hands, they see people giving,
they see flowers being given, they see meals being shared.
So, how have you coped with that personally?
I've looked for the right person, I've prayed and...
At the end of the day, I think as hard as it is, I have to trust God.
I have to trust that he knows the overall plan for my life.
Do you think the church and faith communities could do more to help?
Definitely. We need to actually be reaching out.
As a single person, perhaps, you go into a church and you look
and there's families, so-and-so's going home,
going to have Sunday dinner on the table.
The parents are going to be there, the children are going to be there.
And the single person goes home and thinks,
"Right, OK, beans on toast for me."
I think if we really lived the Gospel,
then there would be far less loneliness.
I gave my life to Jesus when I was 18, nearly 19.
And at that time, just knew unconditional love
in a way that I had never known.
And, of course, that made all the difference.
You don't feel so lonely
when you have this awesome sense of God's love.
It's acceptance, I think.
The Archway Foundation is a registered charity
that was founded in Oxford by Paul Hawgood,
who was working in mental health.
And, as a Christian, felt that there were many in society
who were hurting through the pain of loneliness.
I joined two months after it started as a volunteer.
I was rereading the Gospels and just being struck by
the social action message of the Gospel
and decided I wanted to do something
that expressed my faith in a practical way.
We can't fill the gap left by the loss of a loved one,
nor should we try. But what we can do, and what we do,
is offer to be alongside people
whilst they take whatever steps they need to take
to bring about a change in their situation.
The Archway Foundation offers people a range of social activities
and a befriending service for those who find it difficult to get out on their own.
I've been to Archway since about '94.
-Did you have a nice holiday?
I got depressed,
and the social people at the time took me to see Sheila.
I've lived on my own for quite a while now.
You do get lonely.
When I'm here at home, I have the radio on.
And that's like somebody being around, you know.
And I walk up and down the road.
I've been to the shop.
I go to church on Sundays.
What sort of people come to Archway?
Human beings from all walks of life and all situations.
Sometimes people are lonely because of a change in circumstances.
A move to a new area, a change of job,
For others, I think it's more...
It's hard to say - perhaps personality-related loneliness
because that sounds like you're blaming somebody.
But none of us can be responsible
for where we were brought up or how we were brought up,
and that does have an impact on how we relate to
and how we attach to other people.
-You all right?
-Ready to go?
'A person picks me up from Archway.
'He's like a friend to me, as well as a driver.'
-What sort of day have you had so far?
-Yeah, all right.
I enjoy the company, actually.
The company and meeting people.
You can start with any number card you want.
I'm a volunteer at Archways. I love it.
The great thing is that there's no distinction made
between the volunteers and the members,
which I think creates an incredible sense of community.
And I think it means that it's not a case of
you come here to serve and they come here to be served,
it's a case of everyone coming here to be together.
The Archway Foundation is based on Christian principles,
but helps people from any background.
And it's not just aimed at older people either.
We see people from 18 to 90 plus.
And catering specifically for those in that younger age group,
we have a monthly group for people aged 20-40.
I've been coming to Archway for about eight years.
It makes a huge difference to my life.
I have no family here in Oxford.
So Archway is always a highlight to my week.
I get to see people that are now friends.
I'm not so alone any more.
Loneliness is quite a big issue for me.
And it also links with depression.
You can either put the same number or the same colour. So...
If we don't have human contact, then that does have a negative impact
on our mental health and wellbeing.
And there's plenty of research that demonstrates
the links between social isolation and depression
will relapse into mental illness and, sadly, lead into suicide.
I just want to help out in the community.
Because there are so many individuals like this,
kind of estranged and alienated from society,
that need a way back in.
I think there are many Christians who feel guilty
if they think they're feeling lonely
and somehow they shouldn't talk about it.
But, for me, there are many instances in the Bible
where people did experience loneliness.
Certainly Elijah under the broom tree, I think, felt very isolated
and was probably dealing in essence with the loneliness of leadership.
And so I could go on.
In Archway, it's not always what we say, but more about what we do.
And I suppose the example we have is in Jesus,
who sometimes came alongside people and spoke to them,
but at other times, just came alongside them,
walked with them and met their need with action.
# When you walk through the storm
# Hold your head up high
# And don't be afraid of the dark
# At the end of the storm
# Is a golden sky
# And the sweet silver song of the lark
# Walk on through the wind
# Walk on through the rain
# Though your dreams be tossed and blown
# Walk on
# Walk on
# With hope in your heart
# And you'll never walk alone
# Walk on
# Walk on
# With hope in your heart
# And you'll never walk alone
# You'll never walk alone
# Walk on
# Never alone. #
Dear God, from the wasteland of loneliness
lead me to the oasis of sweet solitude.
From the emptiness of loneliness,
lead me to the fullness of belonging in this beautiful world.
And from the separation of loneliness,
bring me home to loving and living union with you.
And that's it for Songs of Praise this week.
Join us next week when we've got a rather big topic to discuss.
Can we change the world?
There'll be a spot of community gardening, some young film-makers
and why you don't have to be Bill Gates to change people's lives.
The charity that's starting small, but making a big difference.
Plus some classic hymns from around the country.
Join us then.
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