It used to be that families weren't merely people to live with, but one's family actually gave meaning and opportunity to a person. The family was the built-in relationships that a person had, more established and longstanding than even the best of friendships. And for those who had difficulty making friends, for whatever reason, the family provided at least the potential that one never need be lonely.
I don't mean that "in the old days" people weren't lonely. Loneliness is part of the fallen human condition. We might be lonely even with many people around. But there is at least one particular way of life that is more common today and increases the chances of loneliness: the single adult.
I also don't mean there have never been single adults. But I would venture to suggest that in the last 100 years, and surely in the last 50 years, the number of single adults who live alone in their own households has greatly increased. And the single adult who lives alone is already at a disadvantage when it comes to loneliness; he or she doesn't have the built-in family in the household.
I know there are plenty of exceptions and caveats: family may still live nearby; single adults have roommates; single adults take advantage of and enjoy this lack of attachment. That's fine, but it's not really what I'm musing about. I'm thinking about the single adult who basically lives alone (or with a roommate who has his or her own life), and doesn't have the schedule and obligations of other family members filling the day.
Many people may think of this as a blessing, as an opportunity for the person to make the most of the lack of obligation. But at some point, sooner or later, the person will want more permanent companionship. Marriage is what many look for, but sometimes marriage doesn't avail itself right away, or ever. And, sadly, marriages sometimes end, leaving them alone again.
I have often encouraged such single adults to combat this loneliness by volunteering, by inserting themselves, so to speak, into the lives of other families, helping them in the busy-ness and craziness of their schedules, babysitting, doing chores, running errands, whatever. But this does, in a way, seem to leave the family as the focus, and the individual as someone who has to fit him- or herself into the established family. Some singles have responded to me that families should be just as intentional in interacting with and interesting themselves in the activities and interests of the singles. Yet anyone who has spent time with a busy family knows that this also is a difficult request.
So, what do we do to combat this kind of loneliness? Are established families being selfish? How do they balance their God-given responsibilities of raising their children and caring for others in their households with the call to interact with others outside of their households? Especially, what should the church, as the new household of God, do?