What the Lonely Is For

by Kristyn Komarnicki

Paul Tournier once wisely said, "There are two things we cannot do alone. One is to be married, and the other is to be a Christian." The first image is comical and obviously oxymoronic, but the second image, while equally absurd, is, I suspect, not so immediately disturbing as it should be. I know many people who try—futile as it is—to fly solo as a Christian. "My church is right here," they say, tapping the center of their chest. "It's just me and God."

Birds on a wire

Photo by DustyPixel / iStockphoto.com

While that may sound appealing (imagine never having to deal with the mess of interpersonal relationships that one encounters in the institutional church or in any close community of believers) and even super-spiritual—"Yes, God and I are like this, closer than two peas in a pod"—it does not change the fact that such a belief is not only unequivocally wrong-headed but also heretical.

Our triune God is a community, created us for communion, not just between God and us but also between divine Parent, Child, and Spirit, a gift God designed for our joy and completion. It is ridiculous to think that we can live life—life as it was meant to be lived, and not simply survived—outside of community.

It can be as hard to define community as it is to find it, but those of us who have found it know we don't ever again want to live without it. Those of us who have not yet found it possess, if we are honest, a persistent hunger for it. Singer-songwriter David Wilcox hints at this hunger in his song "That's What the Lonely Is For," in which he compares our heart's deepest desires with a castle that we must keep and that, in spite of all its splendor, is "drafty with lonely." Left on our own, "this heart is too hard to heat."

When I get lonely, ah, that's only a sign
Some room is empty, and that room is there by design.
If I feel hollow, that's just my proof that there's more
For me to follow—that's what the lonely is for.

You can seal up the pain, build walls in the hallways,
Close off a small room to live in.
But those walls will remain, and keep you there always
And you'll never know why you were given the lonely.

"The lonely" is why some of us go from one church or Bible study to another, always hoping that the next one will feel like "home," will produce more solid friendships and deeper connections. It is also why, when too long frustrated, some of us give up and turn inward, start talking about attending that remote "church" inside our hollow chests.

When I hide myself from others, it is just a short step from there to hiding myself from myself.

Is living in community—whether within a single dwelling or a neighborhood, in a house church or as part of a small group within a larger body—risky? Absolutely. Is it worth the risk? Utterly, because the alternative is living inside one's own dark and deceptive head. While living transparently—our weaknesses, temptations, and failures in full view of others—is undeniably scary, it is immeasurably more frightening (not to mention dangerous) not to be known. When I hide myself from others, it is just a short step from there to hiding myself from myself. Allowed to remain in the windowless room of my own mind, I will sweep the most unsightly things into the corners until I no longer see them myself. Fear, pain, sin—when kept from the healing light of day—quickly fester and corrupt and put us in mortal danger.

And not just ourselves. At the risk of sounding hyperbolically comic-bookish, the whole world is at stake here. For what chance does a hurting world have if Christians are not willing to submit to one another, to do the often untidy, awkward, grappling work that is at the very core of community?

Christ's prayer to the heavenly Parent, as recorded in John 17, is a poignant reminder of the web of relationship that we must enter into if we are to live the Christian life and if Christ is, through our witness, to draw the world to himself: "The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind," Jesus prayed, "Just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they'll be as unified and together as we are—I in them and you in me. Then they'll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you've sent me and loved them in the same way you've loved me."

Kristyn Komarnicki is ESA's director of communications.

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