Yesterday was my breaking point. It was day 22 of zero human contact outside my family, and the luster of “social-distancing: every-introvert’s-dream” had all worn off. At 6:48am the sun rose, cold and wan on a bed of unpoetic clouds. Excuse the drama, but if I ever believed humans were made for freedom and community, I believe it now, because at 6:48am, I broke.
14 miles. Who knows what in heck possessed me, but with a playlist to beat all (groovin’ to the 70’s, baby) I had one goal: run to the mountains. I got there all right, me, Stevie Wonder, and my newly acquired blister.
I wish I can say it was a transformational experience… like the kind where you get to the top of the mountain and the motivational music score plays as you make a life-changing discovery. Nope. This lesson was in the process. But it’s a lesson I can’t wait to share.
So, friend, lace up your shoes and channel the Stevie Wonder because we’re going to the mountains.
If we’re running to a mountain, we might as well know what it looks like, so here’s the big idea:
The right solitude prepares us for the right community.
The right solitude prepares us for the right community. Now this probably won’t make sense right off the bat. We have to pass a little pavement to get there. So let’s get started!
You and I are living in a one-of-a-kind moment in history where solitude– aloneness, stillness, silence, isolation– is our new normal. For however long as this pandemic lasts, people worldwide are experiencing forced stillness.
Maybe you are like me, and you have really enjoyed some of the silver linings of this forced stillness. Time to catch up on all those projects you wanted to do, opportunities to be with family…
Or maybe this time is just hard. Just. hard. You’re about ready to loop 14 miles to the mountains just to get back some sanity.
Whichever emotional starting spot you find yourself in, the truth is that we’re all physically stuck in solitude right now. At some point, whether you’re already long past it, or still on your way there, you’re going to crave community.
But there is a rare gem we can dig out of this even rarer solitude.
If we can learn how to use solitude the right way, we will be well equipped to enter community the right way too.
It was through the miles of pavement that I began to internalize this truth: Right solitude fuels right community. And right community drives right solitude. Solitude and community are a power-duo. They just go together. Pb&J, if you will; you simply can’t have one without the other.
During World War I, a Christian minister named Deitrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and executed for his resistance to Hitler. Throughout his life, he experienced long stints of isolation and limited community. In his book, Life Together, he highlights the connection between solitude and community.
Have you ever tried to underline the important parts of a book, and then accidentally ended up underlining the whole thing? Ha, yep! That’s what has happened to me as I read Bonhoeffer’s timeless, but completely relevant words:
“One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Okay, Bonhoeffer is definitely a high-dive writer, not a lazy river one. He’s deep. But what he’s saying here is something we all need to hear right now in 2020: If you want to be with people, you have to learn how to be alone. Please hear this:
If you can only be content around other people, you will chase empty whims and feelings.
If you can only be content alone, you will be consumed by vanity and despair.
Don’t hear this wrong. Community is good. Solitude is good. But they aren’t meant to stand alone. I think the gem to be found in the darkness of social distancing is the opportunity for you and I to learn how to be alone (and to do it well!) so that we can experience the true richness of community later.
This won’t last forever. Soon enough, we will gather again with other people. Believe me, I’m ready as anyone to hug 800 people. But today is the day to learn how to be alone. Today is the day to let solitude prepare us for healthier community.
So how can we thrive in alone-time? Glad you asked. The Bible gives us some clear direction on this! There are many spiritual disciplines we can learn to embrace, but there’s one in particular I want to highlight today: Prayer.
Ah, prayer. The thing we all talk about, and yet so very few truly get to plumb it’s depths. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the idea of prayer. But, really, it’s a lot simpler than some would think. Prayer is a conversation between you and God.
In the beginning, prayer might seem pretty one-way as you learn to make your voice heard to God. As you stretch into it more, though, you’ll begin to sense his voice as he answers you and guides your spirit.
How do we know we should pray?
Friend, I’m not making anything up here. Jesus prayed, so we pray!
“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.”Luke 15:15-16
Even (and especially) when Jesus’ ministry was at its best, when everyone knew about him, and when he had every opportunity to be in constant community, Jesus withdrew to lonely places to pray.
The most important thing we could ever do when we are alone is pray.
Jesus often prayed from the book of Psalms, so I think it’s fair to make your camp spot there for a while. As you read from the book of Psalms, read them as a prayer. And in time, all the hours you spend in prayer will prepare you for deeper, richer community when all this craziness has passed. Oh, and go read Bonhoeffer. It’ll change you!