I walk into church a stranger. We're a few minutes late. I stand at the back of the sanctuary and look across the backs of unfamiliar heads to find an empty pew. I make a break for it, strolling down the aisle quickly and somewhat self-consciously, hoping I'm not accidently taking someone else's seat. And if I have, maybe the person will forgive me because I am, after all, a stranger.

I'm a stranger in a new church and a stranger in a new town I now call "home." I have that weird feeling we get in the midst of transitions, de-contextualized and destabilized. While transitions may result in some sort of gain, initially they also involve loss—loss of identity, loss of community, loss of relationship, loss of a loved one, loss of what once was, maybe the death of a dream. Whether a transition is welcomed or unwelcomed, we experience varying degrees of disorientation and loneliness. We grieve.

My family found itself in transition after my husband landed a new job, one we prayed long and hard for and one for which we are eternally grateful. Still, we are uprooted. We had to move to a new city, leaving the familiarity and close confidants of our old home behind.

Over the past decade, I've offered counsel to college students and others who have approached me about settling in to a new place and a new community. This time, I had to remember my own advice. We don't want to feel like strangers for long.

This month, many of us will find ourselves in periods of transitions, as we adjust from summer moves, start a new school year, or prepare for new jobs. From my experience, here are some good ways to bring ourselves out of loneliness and into community, as God intends for us:

1. Move close to your church if possible.

I think it is more important to live close to our churches than to our jobs. The body of Christ is to be the center of our communal lives, our locus operandi. We now live within walking distance of our new church. Pastor Tim Keller notes, "You won't live a wise life unless you are good at choosing, forgiving, and keeping terrific friendships." It is in our churches that we have the potential to find some of our deepest friendships.

2. Be intentional.

When we are in transition, it is natural to wonder about who will care for us. In the midst of our longings to be known and loved, we need to actively love others. The words of Karen Keen, though written in the context of singleness, are most helpful (as quoted by Wesley Hill):

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"Singleness" as we conceive of it in our culture is not the will of God at all. It is representative of a deeply fragmented society. Singleness in America typically means a lack of kinship connectedness. This was not the case…with Jesus who was not married. He never lived alone. He went from the family home to a group of twelve close friends who shared daily life with him until he died…. In contrast, singleness in America often refers to a person who lives alone or in non-permanent, non-kinship relationships.

So, get involved; don't fall into habits of disconnectedness. Be persistent and proactive in reaching out to others in your church and community. You can throw a simple party in order to get to know your closest neighbors. Professor Rebecca G. Adams told the New York Times that contemporary sociologists believe three conditions are extremely important for making close friends: "proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other." That's part of the reason why it's more difficult to make friends after high school and college.

3. If possible, move close to a university.

Universities are cultural hubs. They provide many free lectures, workshops, art shows, and musical performances for the public. University-sponsored plays, concerts, sporting, and other events usually charge a nominal fee compared to other venues.

4. Think about applying for a job at a university.

In addition to the educational benefits you receive, like free courses for yourself and reduced educational expenses for your children, there are lots of people and opportunities for friendships. Universities are great places to network.

5. Consider housemates.

This doesn't apply just to those who've never been married. I've talked to widows about possibly finding housemates. There are many people who live by themselves, lonely in large houses.

6. Ask for help.

Don't be too proud to ask for help. God provides loving souls everywhere. The other day, I asked our grandparent-like neighbors and the wife of Shawn's colleague if they'd be willing to be our emergency contacts. As is standard, my daughter's school required that she have local emergency contacts—aside from her parents. (As far as we can tell those we asked are good, safe people. If we find out otherwise, we'll find new emergency contacts.)

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7. Stay in contact with those who know you and love you.

Sometimes we just need to talk to someone familiar, to be refreshed by someone who knows us in context. We needn't hesitate to immediately contact these friends, family members, or mentors. Distance doesn't disconnect us from those who stick closer than a sibling. Right after I gave birth to my second daughter, Valentina, my beautiful 73-year-old friend, Helen, insisted on flying across the country to stay with me that first week. There are those, even acquaintances, who without thinking twice, would do the same for each of us. We need to be prepared to reach out to those people and to be those people for others.

8. Seek the welfare of your community.

Volunteer. Join city and town councils or school boards or other organizations that seek shalom in your community. In seeking the welfare of our communities, we find our own welfare (see Jer. 29:7).

We are all intertwined, every one of us interdependent whether we acknowledge it or not. Stability and interconnectedness make for healthy human beings. They allow us to flourish even in painful transitions.

These suggestions have been beneficial for my family and me—What has worked for you?