Five Tips for Beating Loneliness from St. Ignatius

5 Tips for Beating Loneliness from St. Ignatius - words next to lonely man on benchA recent study revealed an epidemic of loneliness in America. Loneliness and social isolation isn’t limited to America, though; it’s a global scourge that Pope Francis has addressed:

There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust…At the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness. Running after the latest fad, accumulating “friends” on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer. Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized. (Address to Bishops at the World Meeting of Families, September 27, 2015)

St. Ignatius Loyola knew from his experience of extreme penitence at Manresa that isolation is not healthy. By turning inward and focusing only on his own thoughts and the parts of himself that he despised, he neglected to recognize God’s love for him. Years later, when he founded the Society of Jesus, he ensured that his brothers would always remain in community so as to avoid this pitfall.

What wisdom might Ignatius share with us today as we contend with this epidemic of loneliness?

1. Know your worth.

St. Ignatius opens the Spiritual Exercises by inviting the retreatant to reflect upon self-worth in light of God’s unconditional love for us. Jesuit Fr. Mark Thibodeaux elaborates upon this mediation most beautifully: “Reflect on the staggering, almost unbelievable notion that all the things of the earth were created with my benefit in mind—that God, billions of years before my birth, considered my personal needs and my unique desires while creating the universe.” (God’s Voice Within, 140) Recognize that God created you out of love for you and has placed you on earth at this time and place for a particular purpose. You are important. You are necessary.

2. Discern your mission.

Pope Francis tells us, “I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing.” (Evangelii Gaudium 273) In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius offers effective methods to help us discern our personal mission in life, which will lead to us living with more joy and encountering others with similar missions as we work together.

3. Maintain a support network.

“It is absolutely crucial that I have a strong support network following close behind me, cheering me on, booing the false spirit, whispering tips in my ear, and passing me Gatorade. I will need good mentors, good companions, and a strong link to the church.” (God’s Voice Within, 73) We all need a trusted circle of friends and mentors who will keep us on track. And we need to keep our network strong by investing time in these relationships.

4. Build bridges.

Wherever he went and wherever he sent his brother Jesuits, Ignatius sought to build bridges. Pope Francis continues this tradition today when he speaks of his desire to build a “culture of encounter.”

There indeed we find true healing, since the way to relate to others which truly heals instead of debilitating us, is a mystical fraternity, a contemplative fraternity. It is a fraternal love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being…and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does…Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of community! (EG 92)

When we come into dialogue with a mutual respect for the other, listening deeply, we build bridges of trust and make our lives fuller and our communities stronger.

5. Live generously.

Ignatius missioned his fellow Jesuits to be men of service to others. Pope Francis continues to extend this call to serve today. We serve, he says, because “God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives.” (EG 274) When we serve others, it helps us to gain perspective, inspires gratitude, and nourishes both giver and receiver, bringing us closer together.

As people of hope, we can turn the tide on loneliness. We might start by asking: What gifts do I have that God is calling me to share with others? In what way is God calling me to participate in God’s work by answering the prayers of another? Together, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can infuse joy into our communities and banish the suffering of loneliness.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.


  1. A doctor-friend told me that I am lucky to have girl friends around me at this this stage in life. Those friends you can travel with, without worrying if you look beautiful in the morning upon waking up, friends who are in the same menopausal period as you are because they understand what you’re going through and friends who will give their all for you. I’m sure those who have such friends know what I am talking about.

    They are given to us by God to keep us company and we are given to them too. Isn’t that lovely?

  2. These tips for beating loneliness comes in handy. I usually say “I love my space” by so saying I mean I love to read, meditate and pray because I do them better when I am alone. Growing up I used to see my mother sitting quietly or reading the Bible, now that I am a mother, it all makes sense now. Noise is destructive and one misses the message in a noisy place.
    Thanks for sharing, Rebecca

  3. My wife died 10 years ago, after 56 years together. Lonely? Different, yes! I have spent this time writing books, two have been self-published, I am waiting to hear if a publisher will take up the third. I am working on another book, putting together the story of family travels together with photos. I have a problem finding enough hours in the day. The first web site goes with my first two books, the second I am building.

  4. Am highly grateful to God for this opportunity of encountering lovely people like you once again in my life. God bless you all.

  5. Yes getting old it feels like not being useful anymore for others. Can there be new Friends (Network support?)…But to be reminded that we are loved brings us in the Right direction.
    Thank you also fro the comments!

    • Hi Marie,
      As you can see from the comments below, you are not alone in feeling this way. Your idea for a “New Friends” (Network of support) sounds like a really wonderful, life-giving idea!

  6. Just what I needed to hear/read again, Rebecca Ruiz! Thank you so much… to St. Ignatius too! As I age and loose my energy, as well as not “working at teaching” anymore, it seems I have lost my purpose. So in the spirit of gratitude, we need to hear again and again, in a concrete way, that we are loved and appreciated just for being who we truly are!

    • Hi Caroline,
      Thank you for your note! As you can see from the other comments in this thread, you are not alone in feeling the way you are feeling. You are correct too that we all do need to hear that we are loved and appreciated for who we are. It is so very important.
      Pope Francis says that each of us is a “mission” on this earth. He doesn’t say we are “on a mission” but that we actually “are a mission.” So, if we are still walking the earth, we are still “a mission.” The challenge, and a veritable one at that, is to deduce what our individual mission is when we enter a new phase of life. St. Ignatius has much to offer when it comes to discerning amidst changes – big and small.
      I wonder too, if perhaps each moment of our life, each positive interaction is part of our self as mission. St. Mother Teresa said, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” Perhaps a smile, kind word, or a silent prayer of intercession is part of our self as mission?

  7. So blessed to have shared the love of family, friends, teachers, etc. My journey’s end draws near and I am unafraid as I will join my dearly beloved parents, husband, daughter, son…..and the angels!

    • Hi Joanne,
      What a beautiful journey and how beautiful also that you are unafraid. Please pray for me and all of us on earth.

  8. I really like that this list begins with knowing your own worth. We are taught to be humble, which many think means to not think highly of ourselves. We can believe we have a mission to heal, but if we don’t think we have anything to offer, we will always think we are not good enough and be afraid to reach out to others. This often can keep us stuck in isolation and depression and seeing all of the things we don’t like about ourselves. We get stuck in this like instead of focusing on how much God wants to love us, wants for us to return that same love, and wants us to share that love w others.

    • Yes, it is good to focus on how much God loves us and wants us to share that love. In Ignatius’ personal experience, most notably at the cave in Manresa, focusing too much on our own perceived faults is often not from God. When we are focused on our own faults we are distracted from praising God. Movements from God lead to praise of God.

  9. Sounds Good!! That’s about it : SOUNDS GOOD!!If one had this “Network OF Support” , one would not BE Lonely OR Alone !

    • Hi Meg,
      Thank you for your note. Yes, Ignatius recommended that each of his brothers in the Society maintain a trusted network of individuals. Sometimes these were part of ones immediate circle of friends, other individuals in this network might include ones spiritual advisor, professor, pastor, etc. One might bounce ideas and decisions off of any one of these individuals when feeling uncertain.

  10. Just what I needed, as I age and lose friends to death. Self-pity is so debilitating! Thank you! To St Ignatius and Rebecca Ruiz

    • Hi Patricia,
      Thank you for your note. I’m so sorry for your losses. As you can see from the other comments in this thread, you are not alone. A lot of people are feeling the weight of aging and illness.
      A lot of saints, including Ignatius, saw times of illness and advancing age as a time to serve as intercessors for others. So many miracles are attributed to such intercession. As long as we are alive, God has some purpose for us on this earth so, even when physical limitations arise, we have within us amazing abilities to be powerhouses of prayer.

  11. I’m not at all sure that these work in reality. For example, can’t build a support network in the way we can, for example, plan a project. Generous people can be forgotten when their actively useful years are over. The implication appears to be that if someone is lonely s/he should have been a better person.

    • Hi Maria,
      I do believe that, collectively, we need to do better at remembering and connecting with others when they are our of sight due to illness, injury, age, or other factors. We need to do better at reflecting God’s unfailing love for all of God’s children all the time. And, even when it seems that other people have forgotten us and our contributions, we should try to remember that God never forgets us and we never “lose value” in God’s eyes. God is always there and always loving us.


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