The sting of loneliness may feel unbearable and never ending. But Jesus, always inviting us into deeper friendship with him, is not silent when these feelings arise.

5 Ways to Redeem Loneliness and Start to Move Towards Others


With all my belongings crammed into three overflowing suitcases, I rushed off the plane. I didn’t want another second to pass before I could claim New York City residency once again.

As I darted towards the cab line, I breathed in the air of expectation (along with the stench of curbside trash and cigarettes). I didn’t mind. Being an extreme extrovert, my soul found relief getting back to 8.82 million of my closest friends. And first on my list of “musts” was finding a community.

As I settled back into the city, encounters at church became mid-week coffees, prolonged dinners, and before I knew it, shared life. Among this community, however, one native New Yorker disoriented me. Though she was physically present, she seemed distant. When I finally asked her about it, she replied, “After you see enough people move away, the weight is too heavy to rebuild.”

In my blissful trance, I attributed her attitude to grouchiness and moved along with the naive presumption that my story wasn’t going to look like hers.

And then … the years got harder.

Friends that journeyed with me into adulthood relocated. Busy schedules made relationships difficult to sustain. And then unexpectedly, after eight years of being deeply embedded in the community, my church experienced the painful departure of two lead pastors that tore our congregation apart and led to a complete shutdown.

Just like that, I felt it — the weight of rebuilding was too heavy.

The implosion of my church all came to a boiling point in February 2020. A month later, COVID-19 would crush our best-laid plans, send us into quarantine, and quite literally scatter my church. Before I could lift my eyes and make sense of what I was experiencing, almost every person I had shared the last decade with fled the city.

My grief didn’t surface all at once. It was a slow burn, interrupted often by an unending news cycle and a ruptured routine. But then, grief materialized. Loneliness, a word I’ve often both worn out and trivialized, pierced through my life, like a sharp knife, turning seconds into hours. My disappointments, lost dreams and longings seemed to be laid bare, and there was no one who understood. It felt debilitating.

According to Harvard’s 2021 Loneliness in America study, I wasn’t alone. In the survey, 36% of all Americans — including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children — “reported feeling lonely ‘frequently’ or ‘almost all the time or all the time’” amidst the pandemic.

Loneliness continues to reach such a high rate that many social psychologists have referred to this season as the “loneliness pandemic.”

But even in our current reality, one of the things God always offers is connectedness — to himself and others.

Welcome loneliness as an invitation

Jesus, always inviting us into a deeper friendship with him, is not silent when feelings of loneliness arise. And believe it or not, loneliness can be an invitation. In these seasons, God is inviting us to escape false beliefs about who we are and connect to his tender heart towards us. How he sees us, after all, is quite kinder than how we see ourselves. In the book “Gentle and Lowly,” Dane Ortlund puts it like this: “Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.”

Jesus, because of his love for us, is quick to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15), because he has been there, too. No one has experienced the depths of loneliness quite like Jesus. He lived sinless among sinful family, friends and neighbors, and he experienced being let down and even betrayed by those he loved. Not a single person on earth was able to identify or empathize with him. His loneliness came to full fruition on the cross, where he cried out the words of Psalm 22 to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because no one has experienced the depths of loneliness quite like Jesus, he can comfort us in our heartaches.

As I’ve welcomed loneliness, I’ve started asking Jesus how he sees me. And slowly, he has been revealing what longings for connection are hidden inside me and what great lengths he took to fulfill them.

Be curious about what surfaces

For many of us, we spend a good portion of our lives doing as much as we can to avoid being alone. On a small scale, this could involve running away, denying our feelings or numbing ourselves with a vice or distraction. On a larger scale, this can involve sinful patterns that might temporarily ease our suffering. But when we are able to pause and allow loneliness to teach us about ourselves, it can be a powerful lesson.

In his book “The Path Out of Loneliness,” licensed counselor Dr. Mark Mayfield suggests that loneliness is “most prevalent when there is an absence of connection or attachment.” He goes on to say, “Every aspect of who we are is designed for connection — mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. If any of these components is hindered, it can have a ripple effect on the entire system.”

Consider reflecting on your current emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. Are you seeing patterns that might lead to loneliness or isolation? This is a scary exercise, because it often requires us to come to terms with what we’ve stowed away inside. Be kind to yourself and don’t rush this process. Try taking a week to focus on an individual category, as a starting-off point, and keeping a journal as you go. If you notice discouragement arising, take pauses to pray and invite Jesus to remind you how he sees you.

Let yourself linger

What if the places we move to and from each day aren’t a coincidence? What if they are God-given spaces to feel connected?

One of my favorite books on relationships is “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In it, he says, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”

Whether we are searching for friendships, romantic relationships or a church community, it’s natural to have expectations of what a perfect situation might look like. As such, we can unknowingly create patterns of distancing from people that don’t fit this vision. After recognizing this tendency within ourselves, the first step in building community may involve letting our idealized dream of community die. Then, with both a realistic view of the world around us and a sense of awe, we can begin to love and connect with the people who are right in front of us.

As soon as I also gave myself permission to linger with those around me, I started seeing it. My barista wasn’t a stranger I happened to see at my coffee pit stop; she was my friend who taught me off-the-menu orders. My neighbor wasn’t just the girl next door; she was a fellow puppy parent who helped raise my energetic Goldendoodle. My church acquaintance wasn’t a quick hello; she would become one of my closest friends. And it all started when I began asking myself, “What could happen here if I wasn’t so quick to move along?”

Practice seeing your neighbor

Neuroscientist Curt Thompson is fond of saying that “we all are born into the world looking for someone looking for us, and ... we remain in this mode of searching for the rest of our lives.”

If disconnection happens by being overlooked, then it’s only natural that connection happens when we start to see who’s directly in front of us — our neighbor. A global study conducted by Nextdoor, a social network based on location, in December 2020 found that knowing as few as six neighbors significantly reduces the likelihood of loneliness.

In their book, “Placed for a Purpose,” Cru® staff couple Chris and Elizabeth McKinney share, “How powerful could it be in a culture of isolation for you and me to become people who embrace a posture of hospitality by offering and asking for something so simple: our names. This is when we go from being unknown to known, from being strangers to friends.”

They continue, “We must sow with purpose, patience, and great expectancy, knowing that God is at work through seemingly small actions. Start to see yourself in God’s big story of redemption. It’s a story where each step of the process has value and where God wants to use you — your personality, your gifts, your limits — in unique ways.”

But what do seemingly small actions look like?

For Josh Chen, a Cru staff member in Portland, Oregon, it’s as simple as being present. “​​I’m outdoors a lot. Whether it is fixing up my truck or playing with my kids in the front yard, I’ve found that as people walk by or as other neighbors are in front of their homes, they are very much willing to chat.”

For Andy Bertodatti, a Cru staff member in New York City, this involved a more active approach. “We placed notes under doors letting our neighbors know if they needed anything, they could call us, and encouraging them that we were all in this [pandemic] together.” Andy continues, “Our building isn’t very interactive, but this approach led to several people reaching out to us, and we built relationships with them from there.”

Rest in the finished work of Jesus

At times, the sting of loneliness may feel never ending and overpowering. As I’ve wrestled, God brings Ezekiel 37:1-14 to mind. In a vision, God sends Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones and directs him to speak to the bones. Surrounded by death and dryness on every side, notice what happens. God doesn’t immediately perform a miracle. First, he asks Ezekiel an important question, “Can these bones live?”

Next, Ezekiel was to tell the bones that God would make breath enter them and they would come to life. Ezekiel obeyed, the bones formed together, and they stood up in a large army.

Notice that this isn’t a story about Ezekiel’s power or abilities. Dead bones don’t come back to life by trying harder; instead, something supernatural needs to happen. In the same way, as I’ve struggled to navigate the subtle, lingering presence of loneliness, I’ve sensed the Lord ask me, Michelle, can these bones live?

The God of Ezekiel hasn’t changed. He knows the valley of dry bones we have within us. Nothing is over without his permission.

Dreams, relationships, hopes of things to come, our own mental and physical health: In all of these, authority belongs to God alone.

One day, we’ll see this reality in full. We will fully belong, and it will feel like the best love we’ve ever known, because it will be. Until that day, we are free to rest in the assurance that Jesus knows and supplies for our needs, including our needs for community. We do not need to carry the burden of self-effort any longer. No matter how deep the heartache of loneliness may feel, we can trust that God really is at work, restoring us to himself and each other.

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Michelle Velberg
Words by

Michelle Velberg

Michelle serves as a journalist with Cru. As a New York City native, Michelle loves a good story. She’s held previous positions in public relations, investment banking and marketing, but her favorite role is as devoted dog-mom to her goldendoodle, Ruby.

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Guy Gerrard
Photos by

Guy Gerrard

Guy isn’t much of a city person. Paddling down the Wda river in northern Poland with participants of a Cru® summer mission project describes a great place for him to photograph. He likes being outside, doing anything with water, and he enjoys making things with his hands. Guy serves as a photographer for Cru.

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