In middle school and most of high school, I was the girl who sat alone—at youth group, my homeschool co-op, and pretty much any other social situation you can imagine.
I felt invisible, like I could disappear, and none of my peers would notice. At the end of the day, they went home with phones full of contacts and plans for the weekend. I didn’t.
But I was far from alone in my experience—61% of young adults in the U.S. struggle with loneliness.
Loneliness is an indicator that something needs to change, just like hunger or thirst signals when we need to eat or drink. When left unaddressed, studies show that loneliness can lead to physical and mental health issues like poor sleep, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Beyond that, it can cause spiritual issues, such as vulnerability to the enemy’s lies.
Yet, it’s daunting to confront our loneliness. The common advice of “put yourself out there” falls flat, and it’s hard to know where to start. Cultivating the meaningful connections we crave feels like tending a seed that never sprouts—we till the soil, water, weed, and stare at the same bare patch of dirt week after week, month after month.
Jesus uses the illustration of seeds in His Parable of the Soils, and we can use it as a template for combating loneliness. The path, the rocky soil, and the thorny soil are all obstacles we face in our attempts to foster connection.
“And He [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.” — Matthew 13:3-4
So many of the teens I’ve talked to have felt stuck right from the start when it comes to friendships, and it’s often their own false beliefs that hold them back. Our beliefs drive the way we approach people—or don’t. We tell ourselves stories as a result of past encounters without stopping to question whether or not they’re true.
Lauren believed she wasn’t the type of person people wanted to be friends with.
Hannah believed she was a terrible person no one liked.
Meagan believed God must not care how alone she felt.
These beliefs are like the birds that eat the seeds before they have a chance to sprout. They keep us from reaching out, following up, or approaching certain types of people. Every rejection cuts deep, and we berate ourselves for not being better at making friends. There must be something broken inside of us.
But we are not doomed to rehearse these false beliefs forever.
As Martin Luther wrote, “You cannot prevent birds from flying in the air over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.” We fight back against lies by replacing them with truth. Memorize scripture, pray, journal, or talk with a trusted mentor. By addressing the thought patterns keeping us stuck, we will start to see our behavior shift as well.
The Rocky Soil
“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.” — Matthew 13:5-6
Even when we’ve tackled our false beliefs, it’s easy to get caught in a rut that looks something like this:
· Commit to making friends
· Push ourselves outside our comfort zone to attend a gathering
· Make a promising connection that ultimately never goes past “hi, how are you?”
· Head home defeated, just as lonely as before, and decide we can’t make friends
Those shallow interactions don’t satisfy our desire for meaningful community. And the key to creating deep friendships is, quite simply, time.
Research shows it takes around fifty hours for someone to go from being an acquaintance to being a friend. Obviously the quality of the interaction matters, but the science still stands. If you only spend an hour a week with someone, it would probably take close to a year before they became a friend.Our modern culture loves rapid results and saving a few extra minutes. When it comes to relationships, though, that will only lead to superficial connections. If we want deep friendships, we can’t throw in the towel too early. Click To Tweet
Our modern culture loves rapid results and saving a few extra minutes. When it comes to relationships, though, that will only lead to superficial connections. If we want deep friendships that don’t quickly wither, we can’t throw in the towel too early. We need to be intentional and keep putting in the hours.
The Thorny Soil
“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” — Matthew 13:7
Unfortunately, feelings of loneliness often continue even when we’re surrounded by people. We wish for the types of friendships we see in our favorite stories—like Sam and Frodo—where we can be vulnerable about life and always have each other’s backs.
The problem is that busyness creeps in and chokes out our relationships. Life gets crazy, and before we know it, we back out of plans, forget to respond to messages, and put up facades instead of taking the time to go deep. We don’t mean to neglect other people, but without intentionality, we never cultivate the deep connection we crave.
Research shows that it takes ninety hours for someone to become a good friend and two-hundred-plus hours to become a best friend. It takes deliberate investment in the friendship and sacrifice of your time in order to reach this.
The best way to deepen friendships is to share experiences—not just get coffee every once and a while. Some ideas you could start with are:
· Take a day trip together
· Invite the other person over for a board game night
· Attend a conference or convention together
· Start a group based around a mutual hobby
· Volunteer together
· Organize an event together
The Good Soil
“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” — Matthew 13:8
I can’t think of a better metaphor for life-giving friendships than a seed that yields a harvest a hundred times greater than what was initially planted. Friendships bless us with encouragement, accountability, and support.
But we breeze through the few verses of the parable and forget that the harvest is not immediate. It comes after a time of planting and tending—a time of waiting.If you feel stuck in your loneliness, don’t lose heart. Use this as an opportunity to grow closer to God and rest in Him. He cares about your aching heart. Your loneliness may deepen your faith in unimaginable ways. Click To Tweet
Keep identifying your false beliefs, putting in the hours, and investing in relationships. There are steps you can take to foster connection. And if sixty-one percent of young adults feel alone, then in a group of ten, six people are probably hoping you’ll reach out to them.
So go plant some seeds.