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Draw near: Praying about friendships and loneliness

Lynne Baab • Tuesday April 4 2023

Draw near: Praying about friendships and loneliness

Susan and Clair had very different experiences of friendship during the pandemic. For Susan, the loneliness of the pandemic left lasting challenges. For Clair, the pandemic was a time of relational overload that raised ongoing questions. [1]

Susan retired in early 2019. In those first months of retirement, she realized how much her relational cup had been filled by her work in a busy realty office. In her last years of work, she had also volunteered on Tuesdays at a community dinner at her church, attended church on Sundays and enjoyed chatting with folks afterwards, and often got together with various friends on Saturdays for shopping, a movie, or a hike. Otherwise, after work and for long stretches of the weekend, she enjoyed being alone.

That contentment being alone changed after retirement. Susan tried to be patient about forming new relationships. She continued volunteering at the church dinner and going to church, and she tried to deepen some of those connections. A few months after retirement, Susan discovered pickleball at her local community center. She enjoyed the random chatting with other players. She hoped that perhaps some of them might eventually become friends.

In late 2019, her shopping/movie friend moved to southern California to be close to a grandchild. In March 2020, her church stopped meeting in person, the weekly dinner ceased, and the community center closed. A few months later, Susan’s hiking partner became an adamant Covid denier. Susan doesn’t view herself as particularly ideological, but she found that the advice from her state government and from Dr. Fauci sounded sensible. Conversations with this friend became incredibly stressful for Susan. Phone calls with her friend in California, occasional contact with her siblings, and walks every few weeks with another friend kept Susan alive emotionally, but she was extremely lonely.

When things began to open up in mid-2021, Susan resumed attending church, volunteering at the dinner, and playing pickleball. She loved the human contact, but she has gradually become aware that the sixteen months of isolation scarred her. She no longer feels confident she can make new friends. She’s afraid she will be lonely the rest of her life.

Clair works half time as a graphic designer, and like Susan, is in her mid-sixties. In the first few months of the pandemic, Clair got multiple emails and text messages from friends from high school and college who wanted to reconnect. Her women’s Bible study, which had met twice a month, went online, and the other women wanted to meet weekly because they felt isolated. Several people whom Clair had enjoyed seeing once or twice a year suddenly wanted to Zoom or talk on the phone much more often.

In addition, Clair’s husband felt isolated and needed more of her time. He was used to a very active volunteer life, and all of that dried up. Clair tried to spend more time at meals talking with him, and instead of taking walks alone, as she had always done, she now walked with him. By August 2020, Clair was exhausted.

Clair also felt torn. She knew research shows that the more relational connections people have, the happier they are and the better they navigate aging. She felt that every conversation was a building block to a healthier life, so she tried to be available on the phone and on Zoom. However, she found herself longing for a day when she didn’t have to talk to anyone. After the pandemic, she has continued to have connections with more people than before the pandemic.

Both Susan and Clair feel they can't talk with anyone about these relational challenges. Susan believes that talking with her current friends about feeling lonely would put pressure on them, and talking with potential friends about loneliness would be off-putting. Clair knows that the pandemic caused many people to experience isolation that has continued, so she doesn't want to sound boastful that she sometimes feels she had too many friends.

If Susan or Clair had asked me for advice, I would have suggested they try to connect with a counselor, spiritual director, or life coach to talk about their friendship situations. But here’s the most important thing I would tell them: prayer is a great gift when facing friendship challenges and loneliness. God knows and understands. Jesus said he is our friend (John 15:13-15), and he is perhaps the only friend with whom we can talk about our other friendships.

I have some suggestions for praying for friendship and loneliness.

Give thanks. List the names of past and present friends and what they have contributed to your life. Thank God for each one. Keep photos handy so you can continue to thank God for them.

Lament. Tell God how sad you are that the pandemic created so many friendship challenges and so much loneliness. Tell God how mad you are that the pandemic created divisions between people who used to enjoy each other.

Pray for healing. Spend some time in the Gospel stories where Jesus heals people, and pray for his healing in this part of your own life and the lives of people you love.

Pray for gratitude for every good connection. If you are like Susan, hoping for some new friendships, ask God to help you be grateful for every time you can connect with anyone, whether or not they will become a friend.

Pray for wisdom and guidance. If you are like Clair, a bit overwhelmed by the number of people in your life, pray for guidance about how you schedule your days. If you are looking for more relationships, ask God for guidance about how to invest your time and meet people. Pray daily for guidance for how and when to make connections with past friends or new contacts.

Pray for the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. Pray that God would give you comfort and confidence in taking initiative. Pray that you would know what to say in conversations — including how much to reveal of your inner self — and when to be silent. Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you be a better listener. (Maybe read a book on listening or some articles.)

Pray for hope. Memorize Romans 15:13, and pray this blessing for yourself and those you love: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Friendships are one more aspect of our lives where we need to trust in God. As we pray for hope, we can also ask God for trust.

(Next week: Praying about friendship and freedom. Illustration by Dave Baab: Matukituki River Valley, South Island, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

For Holy Week, I recommend this post that includes three psalms relevant to Jesus's journey to the cross, as well as discussion/reflection questions. This is by far the most read post on my website this week.

Previous posts on hope and trust:

[1] Susan and Clair are real people who have given me permission to tell their stories. I have changed their names and some identifying details.

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