7 Ways to Ease Loneliness and Cultivate Christian Friendships
- Jessica Brodie Award-winning Christian Novelist and Journalist
- Updated Dec 22, 2022
As we collectively and individually emerge from the hole the pandemic created for so many, and as we realize the deep impact of anxiety, depression and other forms of mental illness, one thing is increasingly clear: Loneliness is not good for people.
In fact, while many mental illnesses are rooted in genetic issues, brain diseases, and other problems passed down through generations, many of them are exacerbated by loneliness. Isolation and the mind games we play in the center of that isolation can level a person.
On one hand, we could argue that today our capacity for friendship is so much larger than ever before. Even if we live alone in the middle of nowhere, we can cultivate and maintain friendships on the other side of the world thanks to the Internet, social media, telephones, or any number of modern technologies that bring the gift of another person right into our midst.
Yet as our culture increasingly shifts online, and because of the inherent lack of or capacity for authenticity revealed in online friendships, there’s a powerful kickback in that we’re even more lonely and isolated. In fact, some of us don’t really know how to make friends anymore. Perhaps we don’t work in a traditional office setting surrounded by coworkers. Perhaps we’ve lost touch with our old friends and are living in a new place where we know very few people. Perhaps our family relationships or existing friendships are extremely toxic and we need to branch out, but we just don’t know how.
When we look around us — on TV, in the movies, on social media, in magazines, everywhere we go — we see people with friends doing things, laughing, having fun. Yet we have absolutely no idea how to get that.
The loneliness festers and worsens, along with our despair.
Here are a few thoughts on how we can ease loneliness and cultivate Christian friendships in today’s world, even when we have no idea how to do this.
1. Join a Bible Study or Sunday School Class
One easy way to ease loneliness is to come alongside likeminded people at church — and not just on Sunday mornings in the pews. Join a Bible study or a Sunday school class at your church, and if you’re in one already, switch or join an additional one. If you don’t currently have a church home, or if your church doesn’t offer these, consider doing one at any church. You don’t have to be a member of a church to attend these, and you don’t even need to ever switch your membership or join the church, usually.
You don’t need to know anything about the Bible to take these classes. You just need to show up with a willing heart and a desire to learn.
Be sure to participate. Be yourself and approach it authentically. Hear others, and allow yourself to enjoy the fellowship and friendship you begin to experience when you gather with other Christ-followers, learning more about God’s will and ways.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).
2. Love Others in Service
Does your church or local community gather to help others in some way? This may be reaching out to homeless people, baking cookies for those incarcerated in prison, driving meals to the elderly or others confined to the home, building or repairing houses, or cleaning up litter. Join a group in an ongoing effort. As you work, you’ll meet other caring individuals looking to interact with others in good work. Instead of worrying about what to say or whether people will like you, or how to make conversation, you’ll find yourself thrown into a situation where your focus is on helping others, and friendships will naturally evolve. You might not have a group of instant best friends immediately, but keep showing up, and soon you’ll know people’s names, and they’ll know yours.
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).
3. Resist the Urge to Talk and Tell too Much
A huge mistake for me in cultivating friendships was thinking I needed to help the other person know me in order to grow closer to me. It’s actually the opposite — I needed to know them. I don’t even have to open my mouth and tell my life story for them to grasp who I am. Instead of sharing so much about me, I find when I focus on the other person and a genuine desire to know who they are and what they care about, it goes better. Over time they get to know me, too, but my approach shouldn’t be about sharing myself but inviting them to share with me. It takes a lot of pressure off.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
4. Take a Class or Join a Lifestyle Group
My local library offers classes and lectures on a variety things, all free. My local paint shop offers low-cost adult art classes. If I get myself involved with things I’m interested in or want to learn about, I’m bringing myself near other like-minded people and just might make a friend. And simultaneously, I’m having fun doing something I already like or want to know more about.
During the pandemic, my husband bought and fixed up an old Jeep, and then he joined a local Facebook group made up of other Jeep lovers in the area. It turns out they have Tuesday dinners every month, and occasional Saturday “Jeep and coffee” gatherings, where everyone goes, looks at each other’s vehicles, and talks shop about the thing he’s newly passionate about. Now he has a whole new set of people to be around, and they’ve gone from a loose community to actual friends.
“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (Proverbs 1:5).
5. Reset My Expectations
My friendships are never going to look like what I see on TV, because that’s fiction. My friendships are also not going to look like what I see on social media, because those are other people’s friendships, or perhaps they’re a fictional portrayal of what someone else’s friendship looks like.
My friendships are going to look unique, not like what everybody else has. I need to stop expecting things will look a certain way and instead just accept things as they are.
Maybe my friends and I don’t dress up and take selfies by the beach, or kick up our heels at a spa, but we have a good time, and I care about them. That’s what matters, not whether they fit into my preconceived expectations about what friendships “should” look like.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).
6. Think Outside My Type
I’m a woman in my 40s, but why do my friends have to be other women in their 40s? Why can’t it be my 23-year-old neighbor or my 71-year-old fellow Bible study member? In my early 30s, one of my closest friends was a man 30 years my senior, and we enjoyed weekly coffee excursions where we’d talk about the meaning of life and solve the world’s problems, as we liked to say. He’s still one of my closest friends to this day.
I’ve found some of my most rewarding friendships are with people who don’t necessarily look or even think like me, yet we have something in common, or something to learn from each other.
7. Take the Initiative
I used to get disheartened when I’d hear about a group of women my age – women I knew – who had dinner together, but I wasn’t invited. It wasn’t that they’d intentionally excluded me, but I wondered: Why does no one invite me? Why don’t I ever get to do to these dinners? One day I decided if I wanted to go to dinner with friends, I needed to stop waiting around to be invited and just be the initiator. So I picked a date and invited a dozen ladies to join me. Four or five showed up, and we had a blast. From that, we started “everyone’s welcome ladies’ nights,” where we’d all get together once a month for dinner and chitchat. Everyone was welcome, and a lot of times, not everyone knew each other. But after the dinner, they did. Sometimes it would be 15 women, and sometimes just three, but it was good to get together, and everyone always seemed to have fun.
“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).
These are just some ways to help alleviate loneliness and cultivate community. I hope one or more resonate with you and help you in your efforts to develop friendships with other Christian believers in an increasingly isolated age.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Seventy Four
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Her newest release is an Advent daily devotional for those seeking true closeness with God, which you can find at https://www.jessicabrodie.