Deconstructing Loneliness According to Ruth Graham
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SUFFERING IN SILENCE
Ruth Graham, the third daughter of famed evangelist Billy Graham, was known as a kind, quiet child. This Graham child would become no firebrand preacher’s kid. From childhood through early adulthood, Ruth carefully put on her Sunday smile to hide the pain she felt within. It was a pain she didn’t understand nor dared to voice to protect her beloved parents. Later, Ruth would understand the pain she felt was abandonment. Although she was showered with affection and affirmation by her father, the fact was that he was rarely home. In addition, Ruth and her siblings were often away from home in boarding schools. In Ruth's little girl heart, that translated into a feeling of abandonment
SILENT SUFFERING TO PUBLIC PAIN
After Ruth graduated cum laude from Mary Baldwin College, she set out to forge her own path and fulfill her own dreams. However, she remembers that nagging internal pain still tore at her soul. She married and started her own family. However, after 17 years in what she thought was a good marriage, her husband was unfaithful. This catapulted Ruth into hopelessness, despair and almost suicide. A rebound marriage ended after 5 weeks. Two subsequent marriages also ended in divorce. That’s when Ruth says she had to face her pain and seek answers through prayer and counseling. Ruth’s children were stricken with personal pain too. They became prodigals with eating disorders, drug addictions, and out of wedlock pregnancies.
PRIVATE PAIN TO POWERFUL MINISTRY
Ruth’s private pain and healing and restoration became the catalyst for many life-changing books like Forgiving My Father, Forgiving Myself and In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart. She also began a series of conferences called “Get Growing” that drew throngs of people suffering like she did, people who felt there was now a safe place in the Christian community to get well.
PAIN OF LONLINESS BIRTHS NEW BOOK AND PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS
Several years ago, as Ruth recovered in the hospital from back surgery, she discovered a pain completely unrelated to her surgery. She felt desperately lonely. It would become the catalyst for her latest book, Transforming Loneliness. In the book, Ruth defines loneliness as “an ache, a deep longing to feel connected, validated, seen, known, and valued.”
As she began to research the topic, she found numerous studies that reported a monumental increase in people reporting that they are lonely. And not only are more of us lonely, we are ashamed to say we’re lonely because it might be equated with inadequacy. According to Psychology Today, “loneliness makes our bodies feel like they are under attack.” Other studies have tied chronic loneliness to a host of physical and emotional maladies that stunt our lives and shorten our life spans.
Ruth says that while there are many societal reasons that contribute to increased loneliness, like geographic separation from family and friends, technology and social media, and decreased church affiliation and attendance. But the bottom line is: we as individuals make choices.
Either we choose to become more isolated and lonely or we choose to reach out toward relationships and community. “The emotional pain of loneliness," Ruth says, "is a God given alarm system that something needs to change – and fast.”
Ruth provides practical steps to make those changes.
First, cultivate hope and faith that your isolation and loneliness can be changed by God.
Second, make your first and most important connection to God Himself. We need to make God our highest priority; make the purpose of your life to grow closer to Him. Then, cry out like David did in the Psalms, for a way of escape from loneliness.
Ruth writes about her experience with loneliness in boarding school as a child. She says the pain of loneliness led her to a deeper relationship with God, and she found new confidence as she stepped out of her comfort zone to seek friends.
Third, make your relationships with family and friends the second highest priority of your life. Be willing to nurture your family and friends, even sacrifice for them. Be genuine about your own struggles with loneliness as you look for others who are suffering in the same way. Ruth says our churches and communities are “filled with lonely people waiting to be found.”
Fourth, if you are alone, find the joy in solitude. Ruth Elliott said, “Turn your loneliness into solitude, and your solitude into prayer.” Ruth suggests that when you are alone, “talk to God, listen to God, sing to God, and give Him thanks for all He has done for you. Make God your constant companion. He will ease your loneliness and give you joy and peace.”
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