A few days ago, after a long day at work, I found my daughter Emma, vigorously coloring at our kitchen table. The paper she had cut out for this project was only about one inch across. She was drawing a picture of the sun, that filled every bit of the tiny square of paper.
Normally, Emma’s artistic expressions are expansive, filling large pages of coloring books, pieces of printer paper or cardboard boxes. I was intrigued by the seemingly narrow scope of the one inch square, and was curious as to why she was giving it every ounce of her effort. When I asked what she was doing, she glanced up with a look of incredulity and replied in a tone implying the answer was obvious. “I’m drawing a sun… dad!”
Not content with the obvious, I followed up by asking why she was drawing on such a small piece of paper. She paused, thoughtfully, and responded that the sun was for Nathaniel, a boy in her Kindergarten class at school. Nathaniel had been sad and missing his mother for the past few weeks. Emma said she was drawing a small sun, so that Nathaniel could hold it in his hand when he was feeling lonely. She said, “if Nathaniel has a little sunshine in his hand he won’t have to feel sad or lonely.”
Emma gets it… every one of us needs people who will come along side us and give” a little sunshine” when we are down. We are all wired for connection and relationship. Even the most introverted people still need to be known and loved by others. Kids seem naturally aware of these basic human needs. For some reason, as adults we become experts at covering up our emotions of loneliness or isolation.
Recent studies have found that isolation and loneliness are reaching epidemic proportions. Some researchers estimate over 44 million American experience chronic loneliness. That is a staggeringly high number. Even more startling is the current research on the health effects of loneliness. Consider these findings:
- Risk of Dying Prematurely – Researchers at BYU found chronic loneliness increases risk of dying prematurely by about 30%
- Stroke or Heart Atack – Researchers at the University of Chicago found that loneliness increases likelihood of stroke/heart attack
- Memory Issues – Researchers at Cornell University identified that extensive periods of loneliness can lead to memory loss & dementia
- More Research – Check out these articles for more detailed summaries of on these studies, Time Magazine, Huffington Post, AARP)
Our world is full of people who need relationships. Whether you live in a suburban neighborhood or a city skyscraper, you are surrounded by people who are isolated. It doesn’t matter if you live in a crowded area or on a rural farm, you can experience isolation. At the age of 21, I moved to Seoul, South Korea to be a teacher at an English language school. I arrived in the city, bustling with over 10 million people with nothing but a backpack and an address. I remember trying to find my way to the school I was hired to teach at, walking through throngs of people. In spite of the fact that there were people all around, I felt tremendously alone. Loneliness isn’t about whether or not you have people around, it is about the quality of the relationships you have with those people.
Deep and authentic relationships in our society are rare. To have people who know and love you The only solution to isolation is relationships. Perhaps we can back things just a little bit better, by looking for people we can give “a little sunshine” to today.
Literally, as I am writing this post, the doorbell rang. and When I opened the door, a friend named Rachel was there with flowers, chocolate and a teddy bear. Sickness has been going around our house this week and Rachel stopped by to give “a little sunshine” to the sick girls in my house.
Imagine the impact each of us could have if, like Emma and Rachel, we went out of our way to give “a little sunshine” to those around us.
Who in your life needs sunshine today?