7 Constructive Ways to Fight Loneliness

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7 Constructive Ways to Fight Loneliness

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“I feel so down and lonely,” sobbed a friend on the phone. A few months earlier, health problems forced her to leave her job and essentially become housebound. Her husband’s occupation required him to be on the road five days a week, and their three grown children all live in other states. “I haven’t had visitors in ages,” she continued, “and hardly any of my friends have called to see how I’m doing. My husband can never talk long when he calls because he’s under so much pressure with work. I feel like I’m having to face my problems all by myself.”

My friend’s situation isn’t unique. Disconnection is a hallmark of our age, and many people struggle with at least occasional bouts of loneliness. We might go through periods where we ache for company, but nobody seems to have time for us. We might have a lot of acquaintances, but not anyone we can really call a good friend or rely on for companionship. Loneliness can be a matter of real isolation or, though surrounded by other people, feeling like we can’t connect with them on a meaningful level.

Loneliness can often be brought on by changes in our personal lives, such as the death of a loved one, the dissolution of a marriage or close friendship, having good friends or relatives move away, our own relocation to another city or state, or entering a different life stage, such as becoming empty nesters, or retiring from work. This kind of loneliness is usually temporary and subsides when new connections are found.

Other times, loneliness reflects societal trends. Workloads have increased dramatically in recent years, and many people think they no longer have time for friends. We frequently change jobs and move to new areas, leaving relatives and friends behind. More employees are working remotely, which has its pluses but also lessens opportunities to build workplace friendships. Most people rarely interact with their neighbors anymore or even know them. We often rely on digital technologies to stay in contact rather than face-to-face communication, resulting in shallower relationships. In living this way, loneliness can become a chronic condition.

This is not what God intended. He created us to be social creatures, to have relationships with others. Genesis 2:18 tells us, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says that “two are better than one,” and that companionship provides support in facing difficulties. We need warm, caring relationships with friends and family.

But while loneliness is a growing trend, you don’t have to be one of the casualties. You can take active steps to increase and deepen your connections with others, and even turn lonely periods into growth opportunities. Following are seven suggestions.

1. Look for opportunities that lend themselves to developing close connections.

Friendships rarely happen as the result of a chance meeting. Being intentional about developing them helps. One of the best opportunities comes by regularly attending church services. Hebrews 10:25 stresses the importance of not “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” Not only should we attend to hear the messages, but we should stay for the fellowship afterwards and attend any church socials that are organized. Becoming part of a community of people holding the same core beliefs is an effective antidote to loneliness.

Also consider joining a local recreational team (like a bowling league), exercise class, book discussion club, garden club or another special-interest group. Or organize your own activities. Over the years, I’ve regularly hosted ladies’ events in my home—afternoon tea parties, home spa parties, cooking and baking classes, canning lessons, and soap-making demonstrations. Participating with others in hobbies and social activities can help build connections with them. If no one else you know is organizing these types of events, be willing to initiate them and make them happen. If age or health challenges keep you mostly homebound, consider inviting people over for coffee and dessert if you’re up to that.

2. Focus your attention on those in need.

The Bible encourages us to provide for the needs of others in addition to our own (Philippians 2:4). If you know someone who is facing a difficult situation, mail a cheerful card or call that person to say hello. Ask your pastor for names of shut-ins or those who are infirm and could use a visit and encouragement (James 1:27). Or volunteer at a homeless shelter, nursing home or hospice. When we show support to others, that not only encourages them, it also helps us feel more closely connected to them, which helps relieve our own loneliness.

3. Reevaluate your time commitments.

If you’re constantly busy and don’t think you have time for friends, reevaluate your schedule so you can make time to build and maintain these kinds of connections. Assess your weekly schedule and ask yourself: Do I really need to work this much? Can I cut down on work hours so I’m not so busy? Are there areas in my life that are swallowing up large amounts of time that should be lower priorities?

Obviously, we need to work so we can pay our bills, and sometimes it does take a second job to get by financially. It’s when we’re putting in a lot of extra hours just to buy more “stuff” that we need to rethink how much we’re working. Ephesians 5:16 tells us to “redeem” our time—to make the most of it. God does not want us to be so busy or working so much overtime that we can’t manage a heartfelt conversation with a family member, have a leisurely visit with a lonely widow or go out to lunch to catch up with a friend.

4. Pull away from your digital devices.

Another way to “redeem the time” and build friendships is to limit how much we engage with entertainment technologies. These days a lot of people spend inordinate amounts of time in a sort of “entertainment mode”—checking out social media posts, playing video games or just aimlessly surfing the web. With our smartphones and entertainment devices constantly at our side, it’s easy to become absorbed by such distractions.

To be fair, social media can help us feel connected. But it’s often superficial and certainly no substitute for in-person contact or even phone calls. Making status updates about your vacations or restaurants you’ve visited and then getting some “likes” hardly qualify as meaningful social interactions. Sometimes, too, seeing other people’s social media posts about their parties (that you weren’t invited to) can make you feel left out, intensifying feelings of loneliness.

What if you’re not going on social media, but instead have immersed yourself in online gaming? The concern with that is it’s passive entertainment, meaning you’re “engaging” with a digital device and not interacting with another person (as you would be if you were playing a board game, for instance), which takes away from having actual interactions with family and friends.

This is not to say we need to completely disconnect from technology. But if we start feeling like we don’t have any “real” connections with anyone, or if we spend more time socializing online than in person, then it’s definitely time to start limiting our use of entertainment technologies.

5. Schedule “phone dates.”

I’ve lived in five different states. Consequently, a lot of the people I more deeply care about live far away, and we rarely get to see each other. And while in-person contact has always been the best way for me to fill my “people need,” talking on the phone can still help ease the loneliness.

I recommend scheduling these kinds of phone calls in advance—so that both parties will be setting aside an ample amount of time to talk. Just about every week I have at least one phone chat planned with a long-distance friend.

These phone calls strengthen our connections because we go beyond just sharing news about what activities have been going on in our lives, but also cover “iron sharpens iron” topics (Proverbs 27:17). We’ll seek each other’s perspectives about what we’ve been addressing in our personal Bible studies, information we’ve gleaned in books and articles, personal struggles and concerns, and life lessons we’ve been learning. I’ve found that even just one in-depth conversation with a friend every few months is enough to keep a close friend close.

6. Befriend people older or younger than you.

Most of us naturally gravitate towards others in the same age group and life stage. Moms of preschoolers tend to want to spend time with women who also have young children. Teenagers like to hang out with other teens. Retirees often socialize with other retirees. That’s normal. However, we shouldn’t limit our friendships to those close in age or circumstances, especially if we’re struggling with loneliness. We might be surprised how much being with someone who’s a lot older or younger can fill our need for companionship.

We can all benefit from intergenerational friendship. The Bible points out that younger adults can benefit from the wisdom, experiences and skills of older individuals (Job 12:12; 1 Timothy 4:12; 5:1-2; Titus 2:3-5). And then older people can certainly benefit from hearing the perspectives of young people. Plus, when young people make time for them, it makes them feel loved and valued. Truly, each party can be a source of encouragement to the other.

I see a shining example of someone who seeks out this kind of connection in a college-aged woman at church. Other than her siblings, there aren’t any other young adults in the congregation. However, she has taken the initiative to build connections with the ladies at church who are old enough to be her mother (including myself). She’s gone out to lunch and on shopping trips with us, regularly helps one of the ladies with craft projects, has come over to my house for crocheting lessons, and has spent weekends at our homes just to socialize. For me, being a recent empty nester who really misses having my kids around, I’ve appreciated having an “adopted niece” to get to know.

7. Use your time alone to draw close to God.

The previous six suggestions usually go a long way in alleviating loneliness. Yet sometimes it seems we’re doing everything we can and still face feeling alone. Realize there’s one other very important strategy we need to take, and it’s really the most important of all. Turn your time alone into an advantage by drawing closer to God. Take your concerns to God in prayer, meditate on Scripture, do some in-depth Bible studies and get back in touch with God. This is the strategy my friend mentioned at the outset has taken, and she says it has helped her immensely.

The apostle Paul made it clear that with God, we can be strong even though we may feel weak: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, New International Version). When we are truly close to God, we will no longer feel as though we are facing life alone. Our sadness and discouragement will fade. Many times, loneliness is a void only God can fill.

Although we may cherish family members and friendships, people move away, die, or grow apart from us. Sometimes there are fallouts with friends, the other party having no  interest in patching things up. It can make us feel very disconnected. We need to remind ourselves that as long as we have a relationship with God, we will never be completely alone.

Even Jesus Christ was misunderstood by those closest to Him, but He knew the Father was always with Him (John 8:29; 16:32). And even when He was surrounded by crowds of people who had come to hear Him, He often withdrew to “lonely places” to pray to His Father (Luke 5:16, NIV). We, too, should learn to embrace our solitude. We can all benefit from at least some solo time each day to reflect and recharge.

There may be times when we have to endure longer periods of isolation than we’d like, but some good can still come out of it. If we’re not making sufficient time for God, loneliness is one way He may get our attention. The truth is, it’s often when our lives feel empty, when we have no one to socialize with and nothing going on, that we become motivated to take an honest look at who we are. We then have an opportunity to sort our thoughts and priorities—and God has an opening to draw us into a more intimate relationship with Him and to encourage us with His love!