Gospel Encouragement for the Parent of a Lonely Child

My oldest son was a star football player on his high school team. He twice was MVP of the defense, won numerous league and state football awards, and was recruited to play Division 1 college football. I loved going to watch him play on Fridays and cheer him on from the stands.  However, despite all these accolades, one thing always troubled me. I noticed that when his team ran onto the field like a thundering herd, he would always walk out last by himself. When the team huddled up on the field for the pregame speech, he would always be outside the large team huddle. When other players on the team were psyching each other up during games, he would be off on his own, never participating in these football rituals.  

I must confess, it concerned me that he was not “part of the team,” despite how well he was performing. This social dynamic piqued my curiosity, and also caused some degree of concern.  

For any parent, it is hard to see your child struggle with loneliness. While they might not be a “loner” football player, they might not want to be part of the youth group. Or they might like to hang out by themselves at home. Maybe they prefer spending time on social media or on the computer. No matter the case, parents long to see their child thrive in social relationships. And when these seem lacking, parents can easily give way to worry and fear. 

Parents with these concerns can entrust their child to God, model the love of God to their child, and seek opportunities for deeper fellowship with their children. 

Entrust Your Child to God (This is Not Easy)

“Entrust your child to God” might sound like christian lingo that a pastor might throw at you. Though these words can be helpful, as a youth pastor for 29 years at my church, I never said this to a parent until they were ready to hear it. Instead, I tried to help parents process and work through their concerns, worries, and fears about their lonely child. When a parent senses their child is lonely, they worry if there is something wrong with their child. They question if they did something wrong. They might fear their child is getting bullied, is unliked, or maybe even depressed. 

These are all legitimate concerns and feelings. Some might even be true. However, worrying and obsessing about why our child may be lonely does not help us in our parenting.

As parents, we are also first and foremost children of God. Jesus invites us to cast all our anxieties on him, because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). Of course Jesus cares for your child. But in our gospel hope, he cares for us and our anxieties as parents too. 

As we bring our anxieties about our lonely child before God, we can grow to trust in the goodness of God and his plan for our child’s life. Of course, it’s natural to worry to about a lonely child. But Jesus invites you to entrust your child and your anxieties about them into his hands. 

Model the Love of God to Your Child (Before Anything Else)

 If your child is lonely, feeling rejected, bullied, or discouraged, the anxiety or worry of the parents can an extra burden on the child. Likewise, trying to fix your child’s loneliness by forcing him to go to youth group, make new friends, or go hang out with people, might not be the most fruitful or proper first step. 

However, as parents, modeling the love of God—  our relational loving God, who came down to this earth to be in relationship with us in Jesus—  can be an important way to love your lonely child. When their parents model the love of God to them, children gain a greater picture of the gospel.

Seeing my son so seemingly lonely on his football team resulted in some pivotal realizations for me. I initially reacted by offering to hold one of the Thursday night pre-game pasta parties at our home in hopes that the entire team would come over (and interact with my son). My wife and I also thought about encouraging him to go to youth group. I considered nudging him to invite friends over to play computer games. All these were valid and good suggestions.  

However, as a parent, I often questioned my heart to ask, am I suggesting these things to resolve a situation that I am trying to control? Moreover, am I just trying to do these things to resolve my anxiety about my lonely child? When asking similar questions, parents should remember what they can control.

Parents can model the relational love of God in Jesus to their lonely child. They can let their children know that Jesus is their relational Savior and friend who loves them and is in relationship with them through the Holy Spirit.

Fellowship With Your Child (Talk and Walk With Them)

As you move towards entrusting your lonely child to God and modeling the love of God to them, I would encourage parents to take time to enjoy fellowship with your child. Parents can embrace their child’s loneliness as God’s sovereignly appointed opportunity to grow closer with their child. 

I understand that with teenagers, this might be a difficult task. Not all teenagers want to hang out with their parent! Take steps with your teenager in stages. Don’t just engage them one day and say “Hey, you look lonely!” Instead, invite them to a meal at their favorite restaurant.  Take a trip to the mall. Venture into a local museum with them. Find an activity that they might enjoy and go do it with them. 

Ultimately, view their loneliness as an opportunity that God has given you to engage with your teenager. You might discover things about them and their personal life you never knew.  You might discover they have a personal need for some help in their loneliness. Or you might just find an opportunity to grow in your parent-child relationship in new and fruitful ways.    

I began to spend time with my son outside of just football and just picking him up from practice or attending his games. I saw his apparent loneliness on his football team as a new opportunity to have dinner with him on Sunday nights, his day off from school and football. In those dinners, he shared with me that in school, he was given a personality test and he discovered what he knew all along: he was an introvert. He shared with me that while he enjoyed football, he wasn’t a “rah-rah,” go crazy before the game, jump on the pile of other players, type of guy.  Rather, he liked to contemplate and be left alone by his locker before the game.

God’s Promises for Parent and Child

After my son’s Senior year football awards banquet, three parents of younger, JV football players approached me. They came to tell me that their own boys had told them that they were encouraged by my son. Apparently, before every game, he would sit by his locker and pray. These parents were so thankful to me and my son. This was a perspective of my “lonely” child that I never fully knew.  

Ultimately, having a lonely child can be stressful and worrisome for any parent. And many of those concerns can be valid. I encourage you as parents of a lonely child, to entrust your anxieties to God, model the relational love of God, and see the opportunity to talk and walk with your child in new ways.  

Both you and your child can hold on to the gospel promise of God. As God tell us in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Jesus is with you as the parent of a lonely child, and also is with your child. We can believe and hold on to that promise.  

Be sure to check out the most recent season of the Rooted Parent Podcast: “Parenting, Technology, and the Truth.”

Danny Kwon, Ph.D., serves as the Senior Director of Youth Ministry Content and Cross Cultural Initiatives for Rooted Ministry. Before joining Rooted, Danny Kwon served as Youth and Family Pastor at Yuong Sang Church, a bicultural, bilingual Korean-American congregation outside Philadelphia for 29 years. He is married to Monica, a Christian counselor and psychologist, and they have three children. He has authored three books, including A Youth Worker’s Field Guide to Parents: Understanding Parents of Teenagers, and Mission Tripping: A Comprehensive Guide to Youth Ministry Short Term Missions. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Youth Ministry at Eastern University, is a certified ministry coach, has contributed to various publications, spoken at ministry conferences across the world, and has mentored 28 youth ministry pastoral interns over the years at his church. Danny holds graduate degrees from Westminster Seminary, Covenant Seminary, and Eastern University. His doctoral dissertation focused on innovation theory and intergenerational youth ministry paradigms in the local church.  He enjoys sports, eating, reading, and making people laugh, and now is a youth ministry volunteer in his local church.

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