When the time for making New Year’s resolutions rolled around last year, I focused on some self-improvement goals – eating better, exercising more (never easy for me!), and committing to more spiritual development. And I did make some progress! But this year, rather than embark on another quest to improve my own life, I feel God is challenging me to help improve the lives of others.
A recent survey revealed that loneliness in the U.S. has reached “epidemic levels,” with more than half of Americans saying they feel lonely. It’s a sad statistic, but it’s also a big opportunity. We can reach out to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers with simple acts of kindness that show we care. Here are some practical ways to demonstrate our love this year.
It’s easy to miss signs of loneliness, so keep an eye out for those on the fringes who might benefit from words of welcome, a friendly conversation, or a kind gesture.
The youth group in one church I attended had a community rule – they didn’t talk to their friends before checking for new people. They always talked to visitors first, and many people said it was the most welcoming church they’d ever attended. So, try to notice new faces, offer to sit with them if they’re alone, and strike up a conversation after Mass. Show them where the restrooms are and where to get coffee!
Carry yourself with kindness
Treating others with a positive attitude can make a huge difference in someone’s day. Smile and say hello to the supermarket cashier, the bank teller, or the senior citizen in line for the bus.
Recently, I came across a person asking for money in a cold London subway, and was tempted to avert my eyes and walk past quickly. But then I realized that I would be treating this person like he was invisible. So, I stopped and offered to buy him a hot drink and a sandwich (he opted for hot chocolate and a gingerbread man). It was a small act of kindness that only took minutes, but hopefully improved his day.
Give your time
Maybe somebody you know is struggling with a stressful job, coping with a personal crisis, or lives alone and doesn’t feel like going out without a companion. Offer to take them for much-needed night out.
Taking someone to medical appointments is another way to give your time. A few years ago, my mother needed regular hospital treatments every day for three weeks, and the hospital was over 25 miles away. Her church made up a rotation of people who drove her there, chatted with her while she waited, and brought her home afterwards. She felt very loved, and grateful that she had good friends around her to support her at that difficult time.
There are always local organizations in need of people to volunteer at the local youth group, help with transport for seniors, or just lend a listening ear to someone. Volunteering in your area for a couple of hours a week could transform someone’s life.
Remember to check in
Modern technology makes staying in touch very easy. A quick text, email or WhatsApp message can brighten someone’s day with very little effort on your part. I’ve treasured messages when I’m facing a difficult day (such as when I’m awaiting test results), but I also value friends’ messages that are simply touching base. Or of course, you can always just give them a phone call!
Open your home
In non-pandemic times, sometimes just knowing there’s somewhere to drop in and find some company can be a great help to a lonely person. Hospitality is one of the greatest gifts you can offer to others, because it’s a practical way to show God’s love. Opening our homes is a way of opening our lives and giving ourselves to the needs of others.
Having an attitude of openness about your home can take dedication. Inviting people for a meal, or for coffee and muffins, is great. My parents went one step further, welcoming many of the local college kids, who would simply arrive and flop on the sofa to watch TV along with us!
If you want to do more, look into an organization like Depaul that offers short-term family accommodations to an at-risk student, or Room for Refugees that offers a temporary home to a refugee who may have lost their entire family.
Put your skills to good use
When I was a single parent, I dreaded facing household maintenance or repair jobs, and was overjoyed when our neighbor offered to fix our gas fireplace when the switch got stuck. For some, even a small job like repairing a leaky faucet is a task that can seem mountainous, but it’s easy for the handy DIY enthusiast. Think about what needs you might be able to meet in your community.
I love to cross-stitch small bookmarks and pincushions to pass the time when I’m sitting in line for the bus or waiting at the mechanic’s shop. I store them and slip them into a greetings card for friends. It’s just a simple way to show I value their friendship.
Send a handwritten card
Snail mail is not dead! Sending cards is an especially good way to tackle loneliness. My mom was delighted when friends sent her a “saw this and thought of you” card with a painting of a rowboat on it — the boat boasted the same name as my mom. And my friend loved the sloth card I found, as she collects all things sloth-related.
Or why not dust off your pen and write a good old-fashioned letter? Many older people struggle with modern technology, but will keep and re-read a letter over and over again.
Get in touch with your local senior care facility and ask if there’s a resident who doesn’t get much mail or many visits. Sign up for an organization like Soldiers Angels that provides pen pals for service members, Operation Gratitude that sends thank-you letters to military personnel, veterans and first responders, or Amnesty International, which communicates with those fighting for human rights in other countries.
Simple actions to help a lonely person could turn someone’s life around. So why not make it your New Year’s resolution to reach out to others and see what a difference you can make?
Originally published January 2, 2019.