My current roommate left about four and a half hours ago on a week-long camping trip. I’m alone with her friend’s cat, Duck, until next Sunday, August 15th. Thinking about what this next week holds, I’m a little excited about the peace and quiet and the pure solitude, but at the same time, there’s a little bit of dread. The last time I was alone for an extended period of time was about this time last year when my old housemate, Justin, took off to Idaho to help coach a high school football team. For about five weeks I was entirely alone in that house. When Mohan, our third housemate, finally arrived, I was overjoyed because honestly, at the end of the day, living alone sucked.
Donald Miller talks about this in Blue Like Jazz; how if we live alone, we’re more likely to go crazy. Although I never went crazy last summer (at least, I don’t think so), I do remember not being afraid to talk to myself in public. Not that I actually talked to myself; I just wasn’t afraid of it. But I think what Don was getting at in Blue Like Jazz goes beyond talking to yourself; I think his message is: If you live alone long enough, you forget how to communicate with people.
Out where I used to live there are a whole bunch of places that I could just go to and hang out. And the great thing about most of these places is that a lot of people go to them on a very regular and consistent basis: Borders, Starbucks, Mucho Gusto, etc. For the most part, I hardly talked to anyone when I’d go out. But even though I didn’t talk to anyone, I think I kept my sanity and humanity by being surrounded by people. Like Don, I believe we were made for community. Just look at how popular all the dating and networking websites have been throughout the last decade. People feel the need to connect to other people and we’re so incredibly shy in the real world that we’ve turned to the cyber world to fulfill that void of community. And even in connecting with other people via the internet, we’re still able to maintain our distances from other people; we have the ability to moderate what we share and don’t share with the rest of the world. A luxury like this doesn’t exist in person-to-person contact.
While there are many problems with depending on online social networks to fill that void of community, my point is simply this: We need people in our lives. For me, I recognize that as distracting and fun (and boring) as Facebook is, real community exists face to face, like a church. The immediate drawback we might think of, however, is that people are annoying and they do annoying things and some people even smell funny. If you live alone (as our reasoning goes), you’ll have all the more freedom to have things done your way, the way you want them to be. You can be truly independent when you live alone. But when we come to Jesus, we’re not only called to be in community, we need it. In fact, His love, which is agape love, which exists when someone cares more about others than one’s self, can only be seen in community. Whether we’re alone and feeling His presence or we’re gathered with the church and feel each other’s presence along with His, we’re in community when we feel and share the love of God.
This next week probably won’t be so bad since I’ll be frequently coming to town just to hang out and it’s only one week. But at the same time, I think it’ll make me cherish and truly appreciate the community that I do have when I’m not alone. Sharing my thoughts and feelings with someone physically in my presence has a great spiritual release, let alone an emotional one as well. Admitting my sins, sharing my weaknesses, and listening to someone else’s issues allows for and enables not only a better-connected fellowship, but also a better-functioning fellowship. We’re more likely to be truly honest with one another, truly forgiving of one another, and truly loving of one another when we’re seeking real community. Yeah, sure, they might smell bad or whistle when they laugh, but I think that if you commit to the community long enough, whatever bugged you before will eventually go on overlooked and unseen. I think the whole goal of the church is to be a people set apart from the rest of the world with a focus not on the flaws and shortcomings of each other, but on the image of God emanating through each other. And I believe that this is only possible through true face to face, person to person community.