Posts Tagged ‘East Carolina University’

the loneliness hurts

At East Carolina University the Campus Multifaith Alliance maintains a prayer box, located outside the bookstore.  Anyone can drop in a written prayer, and the campus faith leaders read the prayers in confidence at our meetings.  The other leaders gave me the OK to post this prayer, which appeared last year:

I wrote once before with this request, but who ever is in charge up stairs must not have been listening.  That or I’m just unlovable.  I suspect the second but hope it’s the first.  Please pray for me to get a girl friend.  I’m trying hard on my own, have been for 6 years.  I try all the non-drinking based events I can find and go to class I think girls would like.  But nothing.  I think I’m just too stupid and ugly for anyone to care about.  I try to be nice too.  I hold doors and give rides and I’m never rude.  I don’t think that’s hurt but maybe I’m wrong. The loneliness hurts, too. It physically hurts.  It feels like someone drilled a hole in the bottom of my chest and is trying to suck everything out.  So please pray, please.  I’d love it if she was clingy and cuddly, but even that’s optional. I know it’s a selfish thing to pray for but I’m running out of options.  Also if you could include something about getting through the week, that would be great, too.

The loneliness hurts.

If you visited ECU, you might be surprised by the loneliness the student expressed.  It’s warm and sunny here most of the year; walking through campus, you see students laughing and hanging out with their friends.  On the weekends, this place is Tailgate Central.  The downtown area is packed well into the morning on the weekends.

In my campus ministry world, I’m surrounded by dynamic, go-getter students who have lots of friends, and who do mission work, discuss theology late at night, and go to all the Christian events.

So who’s lonely?

Actually, I wasn’t surprised at all to read the prayer.  When you dig below the surface, you find a lot of loneliness.

I know smiling people who have a lot of friends, but who have no one to hold when they don’t feel like smiling.  (Remember the part in the prayer about “clingy and cuddly?”  Don’t doubt the power of a hug!)  I know faithful people who sit by themselves week after week in church on Sundays.  I know people who spend their weekends going to friends’ weddings, and wonder if there will ever be occasion for their friends to return the favor.

You may be reading this saying, big deal.  College students need to concentrate on their studies and on getting ready for a career, especially during a recession!  That’s what I used to think too.  But spend a while with the students and you’ll notice the longing for deep friendship, companionship, and intimacy with commitment.

I’m beginning to wonder if those of us who are Baby Boomers or Generation X’ers are part of the problem here.  For a while, maybe about fifteen or twenty years, we’ve become very confused about what to do (or what our children should consider doing) after high school graduation.  Some people still advocate a quick progression of college/vocational training/job, marriage, and family.  Some say young people should explore the world and spend 5-10 years in self-discovery.  Some say you should make a pile of money so you can settle down later (more difficult to do this in 2009!)    Maybe I’m wrong, but I wonder if so many students and recent college grads are lonely because they haven’t received any guidance.   Why bother risking a broken heart, if you’re supposed to be traveling the world or climbing the career ladder?  Why invest in anything long-term, when you have been encouraged to keep your options open?  Why bother at all, if your economic future looks bleak?  For the students who really are after casual encounters, I guess it’s a great day to be alive.  But for the rest ….?

What can the church do to minister to people hurting from loneliness?  Sometimes I think we could minister to a lot of people by working really hard on fellowship.  Instead of just having potluck dinners under the fluorescent lights of the church fellowship hall, we need to offer more retreats, road trips, gatherings in people’s homes:  anything that helps people feel like they are really the body of Christ and not just bodies in the seats.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep the prayer box open.

(Note:  if you haven’t read Tribal Church by Carol Howard Merritt, or her blog, do so!  She writes in more detail about young adults, the challenges they face, and ways to minister to them.  Her book helped me make some sense of all the things you read about in this post!)