Loneliness starts in your head.
Now don’t hate me before I finish… I’m not saying loneliness is all in your head. I’m just saying it starts there — with your thoughts. Otherwise, how could some people be perfectly at peace hiking in the wilderness, and others feel utterly isolated in a room filled with people?
Your feelings about being alone start with how we think. If you believe you’re alone, you’re going to feel loneliness. If you think no one likes you or wants to hang out with you, you’re going to act as if that’s the truth. Your thoughts influence your feelings, which lead to your actions. Then your actions form habits that gradually shape your character. The direction of your character determines your destiny.
But loneliness starts in your head.
When you’re lonely, it’s easy to become fixated on those emotions. You feel sad and you keep waiting for someone to reach out and connect with you. But even King Solomon said that if you want friends, you have to be friendly (Proverbs 18:24).
So what if you flipped the script? What if, instead of waiting for someone to reach out to you, you took that first step?
I used to move a lot, growing up with a military dad and then being a missionary kid. Then I became a pastor’s wife and we just kept moving every couple of years. For a long time, I felt awful when I didn’t quickly make new friends in every new place.
One day, I realized I didn’t really need new friends everywhere I moved — what I really needed was to take excellent care of the friends I already had. That epiphany shifted the way I looked at my social life. I started intentionally investing in quality girlfriends I already knew I could trust, and when I moved to new places I was thrilled by the occasional bonus friendships along the way.
Sometimes, depending on your home dynamics, finding friends can be hard. Especially if you have a spouse that even subtly keeps you isolated from making quality social connections. If that’s your situation, you may need to seek support and learn whether your loneliness is actually the result of emotional or social abuse.
The truth is, you may not be the only one feeling lonely in your community. It’s entirely likely that you’re surrounded by more than one person who longs for connection just like you do. It might be the single parent who lives down the street, the manager who works in your office, or the teenager who keeps getting bullied at school.
But what if you turned your loneliness into an invitation? What if you decided you were going to stop waiting for others to make the first move? What if you become the friendly one? (And hey, if you’re shy, I’m not talking about a total personality transplant. You need to be you – just… friendlier…) Consider one of these three activities next time you’re feeling lonely…
1-Set Up a Coffee Date
Starting a new friendship can be as simple as setting up a coffee date. Invite a college student, an elderly neighbor, or an acquaintance you haven’t seen in a while. Make it your treat and just spend the time chatting together.
If you don’t know how to get the conversation rolling, that’s okay. Try starting with a question. A few good ones might include:
- Who in your life are you closest to? What makes that relationship strong?
- How are you managing all the busyness in your life? Have you found any tips that work for you?
- I really admire ________ about you. Can you tell me more about how you learned /cultivated that skill/quality?
- If you could give a million dollars to charity, which one would you choose? Why?
- What’s the best lesson you’ve learned this past year?
- What’s your favorite hobby? Have you completed a recent project you can share with me?
- (If your coffee date is from a different generation…) What do you find most different about the world now, compared to when you were my age? How do you feel about that?
2-Do Dinner Together
Pretty much everyone loves a home-cooked meal. And if cooking isn’t your thing, you can always potluck it or order pizza and just keep it informal.
Connecting with others can be as simple as setting an extra place at the table. Invite a new co-worker to join you. Ask your church secretary if there are any families in need, then call and invite them over. Tell a senior citizen you’d enjoy their company at dinner, and maybe schedule it earlier that usual so they don’t have to drive after dark.
If you have the time and think your guest might enjoy it, bring out a board game or a puzzle after the meal. Low-key conversational activities are wonderful ways to get to know your guest and learn about their personality. You might find they have great stories to share, or a similar background to yours!
When I was a little girl, we often got together with other families on Saturday afternoons for a hike, a picnic, or time exploring out in nature. Some of my favorite memories are from those casual, relaxed, low-pressure social times, times that helped us all avoid loneliness. Nobody had to prep or plan or decorate for a party, we just brought our snacks and ourselves.
3-Start a Sweet Tradition
Another way to welcome more community into your life is to start a tradition of having dessert together each week. This could be a dessert you’ve prepared yourself, like a family recipe you learned as a child, or something new that you’ve experimented with that you discovered on Pinterest or your favorite cooking show. It could be homemade chocolate chip cookies or cracker candy. Or it could also be store-bought and ready to go.
For your dessert night, you might want to invite someone in the military who doesn’t have family in the area. Ask a new neighbor to share dessert, and let them bring the coffee. Let a single parent know they’re invited over for homemade treats and welcome their kids to join you if they can’t get a sitter. Better yet, invite them an hour early, and let their kids help you in the kitchen while everyone makes the dessert together and turn fun music on.
My family would often invite new people over from church on Friday nights to join us for supper and conversation. My mother would light yummy-smelling candles and turn out sacred music that was soothing and relaxing for the end of the week. I still remember the smells and sounds, and they bring back feelings of warmth and connectedness. You can do the same, in your own ways, by thinking of how the environment sounds and smell, as well as how it tastes.
Call the people you wish would call you. Let go of the idea that they should be the one to call first, and decide that you’ll be the person who initiates contact. What if, while you’re feeling sorry for yourself, they’re looking at you wishing you’d invite them?
I’m challenging you this week, to think about what kind of interaction works best for you, and then go exploring with your hospitality and friendliness. You never know what beautiful friendship is waiting for you!
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