Solitude and Community Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Family — By on March 5, 2013 at 3:00 am

solitudeI made the move to Phoenix in November of 2011, after nearly 27 years of existence within the state of Indiana, sans a few trips overseas and to Colorado.

It was probably one of the craziest, most reckless decisions I’ve ever made.

To give a little background, my family—mom, stepfather, sister, and her “common law husband” (whatever, hippies)—moved from Indiana to the Valley about six years ago. At the time, I was still finishing up school and was working for a church as a youth pastor. Needless to say, I was kind of entrenched.

My family and I aren’t particularly close, and there are a lot of reasons for that, naturally. Over the past few years, though, we’ve been making steady progress, and I’ve come to appreciate them in a manner my former youth did not afford me. Which is odd when you consider it: I finally came to appreciate my family when they weren’t giving me money. Kind of got that one backwards there.

I have always been the independent one, never afraid to go his own way and speak his mind, often to disastrous results. I don’t say this with a lick of pride, mind you, because if I could trade my moments of rebellion and “freedom” for a better relationship with my family, please believe I would do so in a heartbeat.

One point of contention between my family and myself was my faith.

I was, and to this day still am, the only Christian in my entire family. I tell everyone I became a Christian when I was twelve, making the decision shortly after I lost my father to cancer. The truth is, I’ve always sort of believed in God, and can recall reciting prayers to Him in my head as some of my oldest memories. After my father’s passing, things got serious for me. I started reading my Bible front to back. I got involved with a local youth group and church. My mom would drop me off and pick me up on Sundays and Wednesdays, never really setting a foot inside the church with me.

To their extreme credit, they were 100% supportive of my decision to go to church. They just didn’t have any desire to take part in it with me, and I’ve come to a point in my life where I understand their reasoning. But this desire to branch out on my own in a spiritual way at such young age was indicative of a larger desire in my heart for independence, whatever that really meant. I don’t know, I was twelve. I didn’t exactly have a strong grasp on the wonders of autonomy, so I won’t romanticize it.

And now, 16 years later, nearly a decade after cutting myself off from my family at 18, I’ve found myself once again within their proximity.

It was November 9, 2011 when the idea popped into my head suddenly—an hour after a sudden, torrential break-up, but that’s another story—that I no longer wanted/needed to be in Indiana. It was November 11, 2011 when I hopped on a plane with a suitcase, a backpack containing my laptop/tech gear, and a puppy I had adopted just a month before. Everything else I left behind (including friends) or gave/sold away (not including friends). It was time to start over, and I did so with a proverbial fire sale of the possessions I held so dear to my heart. And I don’t miss any of them.

I’m glad I made the move out here to Phoenix. The weather is amazing (except for the summer when my car doesn’t have A/C because the Universe is like the honey badger, just not giving a crap). It’s not far from some of our country’s most beautiful landscape. And it possesses a burgeoning cultural scene, man. *adjusts non-wool beanie made from non-conflict cotton fibers*

However, I’ve felt the pains of being without a strong community for close to a year and a half now. A lot of this falls on me, so continue to read knowing that I’m well aware of that fact. I’ve been to church a handful of times (six, maybe?) since moving. I don’t necessarily have a consistent group of friends I hang out or do activities with. I tend to frequent coffee shops for hours at a time, writing and surfing the internet, allowing the passers-by to stand in for my social interactions of the day, with nary a word shared between us.

I’ve made friends. And I still see my family from time to time. But the majority of my weeks are filled with doing the work I’m doing, searching for more of it to do, or just searching for something to do. I’ve been considering moving back to Indiana for a couple of months now, if only because I want to see my closest friends on a consistent basis, and to drown out the deafening silence of my empty house.

These recent thoughts have brought to mind one of my favorite quotes from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

This quote, especially today, rips the breath straight from my selfish chest. It’s almost like God uses it to sucker-punch me in the gut in order to get my attention.

And it’s working.

I’ll always be someone who needs his space. Someone who has to have moments of solitude in order to regroup and recalibrate. I guess everyone needs that, but to varying degrees, and mine is apparently an extreme one. But my self-imposed exile will get me nowhere, and will wreak havoc on my understanding of the world, people, and most of all, grace.

It took an awful lot of pride denial for me to make the move closer to my family. Ever since I was a little kid, all I could ever dream about was getting out and on my own, away from my “overlords.” And now at 28, I’ve crossed a thousand miles in order to only be separated from them by fifteen.

It takes submission in order to be a member of a community. It takes a denial of your own selfish motives and wants, and that is a cost worth paying.

I’ve finally submitted to the love for and of my family, so now it’s perhaps time I consider extending that submission to my family in Christ.


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