“The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone….” Genesis 2:18
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16
I have entered the first month of a new year and I find that it is not that much different than the old year. This realization can be somewhat challenging considering what the last year has been like. There have been difficult circumstances and realities that have in many ways defined the world in which we live. Whether it is our health and well-being, the economic uncertainties or the political landscape, it seems that everyone has to some degree been adversely effected this last year.
I have personally found it is helpful to remember the spiritual rhythms that keep me attentive to my relationship with Jesus, His word and His work, while in the midst of difficult times. My friend and mentor Chuck Miller used to say that communion leads to community. In other words, my vertical rhythms of abiding in Christ were to give foundation to my horizontal rhythms of connecting with, and relating to, others. There is a symbiotic relationship between my rhythms of solitude, being present to God alone, and rhythms of relationship with others. Both were essential to my growth in the life God intended for me and I believe are needed rhythms in life now.
I’ve been advised in this new year that sheltering in place, limited contact with others and avoidance of social gatherings is a prudent way to respond to some of the ongoing health concerns throughout the world. It is not necessarily my preference, but I am attempting not to elevate my preferences above the concern for others. In it all, I find it wise to stay connected to God’s will and wisdom in the midst. I believe He sees and knows my circumstances and the best course to follow. That being said, I can’t dismiss my relational needs in this time. Fortunately there are, at this time, alternate ways to connect that help me continue to pursue and cultivate relationships. I am daily challenged to nourish relationships in the midst of whatever my circumstances are. I believe, based on my reading of the Bible, that I have an imbedded and intended interest in relationship.
God says in Genesis 2 that it is not good for humanity to be alone. It is fascinating that though God was relating to the first soul into which He breathed life, still humanity was in need of others similar to themselves with whom they could connect. The bottom line is we were created to be in relationship; first with God and then with others created in His image.
This need has become increasingly clear in the season of pandemic. We are more isolated and alone as we shelter in place. There are fewer places to go, to gather and encounter others. The effects of this sense of ongoing isolation has manifested itself in various ways. Some of these manifestations are healthier than others. But the long term effects of this imposed isolation is not completely known, but there are indications that it is provoking greater anxiety, fear, anger, hopelessness and resignation, none of which cause humanity to thrive.
But there is also a sense in the Bible that our relational needs do not preclude or exclude the call for solitude. Though Jesus, fully human and fully divine, was highly relational, He still often withdrew to lonely, isolated places to pray. He left the public and external relational space to enter into the private and internally activated place of connection with God who encompasses, yet transcends the human condition. Jesus even led His disciples into lonely places of solitude away from the crowds and external activities to rest and be restored.
It seems that as essential to human growth and health as relationships are, there is also a need for the movement into solitude and silence, the inner room described in Matthew 6:6, where the door to the outside world has been shut, where we can encounter the God who is larger than our humanity and initiates His own covenant relationship with us. In the space of solitude, withdrawn from this world, we are available to the still, small voice of God’s whisper. It is there our deepest relational hunger is addressed. It is there the energy directed into human relationship is discovered. In fact, it is my belief that the appropriate experience of solitude enhances and better shapes my relationships.
It is in solitude that the hospitable space for others to enter and grow is manifested and carried back into our human relationships. So in this pandemic where isolation is more prevalent and at times required, possibly you can discover God’s space of solitude. Possibly you can begin to redefine the isolation associated with pandemic as an opportunity to experience the solitude, which provides space for a deeper listening, a deeper awareness and attention, for God’s still small voice which shapes and empowers all other relationships.
I am praying for God’s help for the world in this time of pandemic and unrest. But in the moments where the unexpected and unwanted isolation leads to fear and anxiety, I am attempting to instead practice solitude and silence through which hospitable space for the loving and powerful presence of Jesus can be experienced. Then, from that place of solitude and silence I long to be empowered to engage in relationship and conversation with others in life-giving ways. May your isolation provide you the same opportunity and may your encounter with Jesus in the hospitable space He provides, bear the fruit of love in all your relational experiences. I’ve included here a song with the intent of furthering your experience and meditation on the Lord. May it bring encouragement.