Beware of isolation; beware of the idea that you have to develop a holy life alone. It is impossible to develop a holy life alone; you will develop into an oddity and a peculiarism, into something utterly unlike what God wants you to be. The only way to develop spiritually is to go into the society of God’s own children, and you will soon find how God alters your set. God does not contradict our social instincts; He alters them. (Oswald Chambers)
I have to be honest. It seems that I continually live a life that contradicts what I know to be true. I know what scriptures say about community. Do a quick search on “one another” and you soon realize that we are to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (rom 12:10a) “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal 6:2) “encourage one another and build up one another,” (1 Thess 5:11) and we should “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,”. (Heb 10:24)
This is just a sample of what community should look like. It’s how Jesus expects me to live with my Christian family. I know this. I want this most days and yet I continue to live a life somewhat isolated. It’s true that often I choose isolation, in fact I prefer it on some levels. But it’s not healthy for my spirit to be separated from those that would admonish, encourage, love or stimulate me toward a holy life.
As an introvert, one concerned with the inner world, thinking, exploring my thoughts and feelings, I often find myself drained after being with large crowds of people. It’s not that I don’t like to talk to people. I would just prefer sitting one on one (or two) and go deep into conversation instead of doing the whole social chit chat. I find it hard and somewhat tiring to keep conversation on a surface level or to just talk about the weather.
I struggle with what community has seemingly become, especially in America. We run here and there with no time to sit and really talk. We ask in passing “how are you?” but we really don’t stop to listen. We show we don’t really care. You might bulk at that and say “I do care!” but actions speak louder than words. If you or I really cared we would stop and listen. We would ask deeper questions when the person says “ Oh I am fine!” We would take the time to ask if they are REALLY fine.
Even for the one who is more extroverted this can be problematic. They may be less inclined to actually feel isolated and are energized by the crowds of people, but do they have those in their life asking the deeper questions. Are they investing in one another? Are they allowing others to really know them?
At first when I began thinking about being isolated I just assumed it was an introverted problem. I mean, I know that I have great tendencies toward isolation as an introvert and it would be easy to just put the blame there. But if I am being totally honest I must also realize that I can choose to be alone because of past hurts, disappoints and rejections of those in the community.
We all have had circumstances where we have found community a place of judgment, gossip, critical words, envy, and filled with disagreements. We all can have tendencies toward self protection too. But this isn’t they way Christ wants us to live. Christ calls us to be engaged in community regardless of the cost to our personal comfort or protection.
So, what do I need to do in order to re-engage into the community? First I need to go to my Father. I need to sit at His feet and ask Him if I am holding on to any hurts from the past. Is there any anger or bitterness that I have allowed to grow? If so I need to deal with it right then and there at the foot of the cross.
Second I need to realize that I am to allow Christ to pour Himself out of me into others. I can only do this if I have first gone to Jesus to have my own needs met. It’s hard to go out into the community of believers (and non-believers) if I am looking for them to fill my needs. It then becomes about me not who I am to minister to.
It can’t be about me, even if I am feeling needy at the moment. I must lay myself aside and allow God to minister to others through me. God promises to supply ALL my needs, I do not have to go out expecting others to meet them. In His timing, in His way, through those He chooses, He will see that my needs are met. I need to trust in that. I need to rest in that.
Third, I need to stay true to myself. I need to be me. If I ask someone how they are and they walk away saying fine, I need to go after them and so “I really want to know how you are! I am available to listen or pray if you need it!” I can’t worry about what others might think. If I really care I will ask the hard questions, it’s who I am.
Also, in a crowd of people I can try engaging with one or two people instead of feeling overwhelmed about trying to engage with everyone. Most importantly I need to realize that there will be those that do not understand and may see me as being stand-offish, or unfriendly because I don’t say hello. I can’t be bothered by what others think, I can only try to touch those God lays on my heart or puts directly in my path.
And finally, I need to be in constant prayer. I need to pray that God will in deed show me those He wants me to speak to. I need to pray that I am sensitive to the Spirits leading and that my eyes and heart would be open to see those in need of a kind word, a hug or a smile.
The bottom line is that I need to remember when I am in community I have a responsibility to be Christ with skin on to others. Not once did Jesus expect others to fill His needs. He always sought to focus on those that His Father gave Him to minister to. I need to do the same. I need to live in community focused on others and what their hearts and lives are in need of.
Oh Father, this constant needing to die to self is tiresome. Oh how I wish it was a once and done act of surrendering my life. But it’s a daily, moment by moment choice of choosing to live in accordance to Your will. Help me Father die to all that my flesh so often demands. Thank you for sending Your Son to die and set the example of a life lived in complete surrender. I want to be more like Jesus but I know I can’t until I completely give You all that I am. I need to stop trying in my own strength, in my flesh and allow you to have complete access to all my life. This is my desire…help me in those areas I lack trust. Amen.