Thanksgiving: A Good Time to Tackle the “Loneliness Epidemic"

by Jac La Tour

woman on a park bench

November 14, 2019

Sharing a meal is a great way to draw people into community.

Is Thanksgiving a holiday when you look forward to spending time with family or friends? Consider yourself fortunate. Today one in five Americans say they feel lonely or socially isolated. With U.S. households shrinking and more older adults living alone, the problem is likely to get worse. And the negative effects aren’t just emotional. According to the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), “loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

So how can followers of Jesus help? We found this seed of an idea in an HRSA article:

The good news is that friendships reduce the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases and can speed recovery in those who fall ill. Moreover, simply reaching out to lonely people can jump-start the process of getting them to engage with neighbors and peers, according to Robin Caruso of CareMore Health, which operates in 8 states and the District of Columbia with a focus on Medicare patients. Her "Togetherness" initiative aims to combat "an epidemic of loneliness" among seniors through weekly phone calls, home visits and community programs.

Taking Robin Caruso’s lead, what if you were to turn your Thanksgiving celebration this year into a togetherness initiative in your neighborhood? With a little creativity, the day could be as simple or ambitious as you choose. Here are some thoughts to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Start by asking a few friends or family members to help plan and pull off the day.
  • Each of you could identify one or two people who you think might be afflicted with the loneliness virus. Pray and ask God to bring people to mind.
  •  Extend personal invitations to the people you come up with.
  • To help those you invite feel more a part of the day, create a sign-up list for various parts of the meal.

The HRSA article says the loneliness problem is particularly acute among seniors, especially during the holidays. If you don’t know an older adult, chances are there’s a senior apartment complex or assisted living facility nearby. Imagine how different Thanksgiving could be this year for one or two of those residents if they spent it around your table.

And it’s more than just the meal time that will make the difference. The “togetherness” starts with your invitations, continues as you communicate prior to the big day, then blossoms when people who arrive as strangers connect in conversation before, during and after dinner. What will happen when you spend time and energy planning something like this? Well, Jesus pressed into a lot of relationships by sharing meals with people around tables. Over time, some of those people began following him.

Now there’s a good reason to be thankful.

Category: Common Cents