By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Faith Columnist—
Many experience loneliness and isolation, especially this time of year. Sometimes unhealthy self-medication is used like drugs, food, or alcohol. Members of the LGBTQ community can feel particularly vulnerable this time of year. In general, loneliness in the LGBTQ community has been described as an epidemic.
Just because an individual has friends, acquaintances, and is a social butterfly, doesn’t always mean he or she is in a good place emotionally or spiritually. One can feel despair on a sunny day. Feelings of isolation can be prevalent at a social event with long-time friends.
As the links in this month’s column suggest, there are multiple resources to combat emotional and spiritual pressures. Fortunately some focus on the LGBTQ community. There are several feelings, however, too often overlooked in the discussion of loneliness. They include kindness, empathy, and experience or perspective.
The Dalai Lama teaches, “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us, and make us kinder.”
The passage of time gives us perspective. Everyone is dealing with some personal challenge. Rather than focus on your situation, shift attention to someone else. Make another person smile. Say thanks to the maintenance person in your building for the work he or she does. Bake cookies for the breakroom at work. Tell a colleague they did a good job when the boss doesn’t. Give a small piece of chocolate to a co-worker who looks like they’re having a tough day.
Find an opportunity to tell someone he or she is valued or valuable. Try directing some of the energy fueled by fear, anxiety, or frustration into something positive. Positive social engagement is one option. Encourage others. This includes individuals we may not necessarily like.
This is not to suggest we shouldn’t discuss our concerns or emotions with a trusted friend or healthcare professional. It’s unhealthy not to do so.
In balancing care for others with our needs, also remember gratefulness. What are you grateful for this holiday season regardless of your personal or professional challenges?
I was recently diagnosed with a health condition and I was thankful for health insurance, competent healthcare professionals, and the opportunity, though unwanted, to learn from yet another of life’s experiences. It’s another perspective to empower me with empathy to assist someone, perhaps a person I’m yet to meet.
Friday, December 21 is the shortest day of the year. Winter officially begins. Daylight will start to increase a few minutes each day on the 22nd. Winter, despite the snow and bitterly cold temperatures, sets the stage for spring. Trees and spring flowers need a cold, dark slumber to awaken in late March and early April.
Although it will seem dark for quite some time, the cycle and renewal of life have already begun. Hope never went anywhere. It’s always here. As time passes, I’ve come to look upon personal experiences, some that can be described as the dark night of the soul, as the Creator’s way to empower me with greater kindness and empathy. Your soul becomes more sensitive toward others who may be living in quiet despair or loneliness.
In being discouraged, overwhelmed, and sometimes burned out, managing the unruly beast that is negative energy and using it to nurture yourself to support and encourage another person can make all the difference in the world. You become a point of light, like the star on a cold, dark, winter’s night. It reflects the holy and spiritual in you.
*Paul is a personal chaplain, seminary trained priest, and lawyer in greater Albany, NY. He’s also the author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”