The Temptation to Isolate
- 2014 Nov 21
This post originally appeared on my blog (carajoyner.com) at the end of the summer.
I don't think I've ever been so happy to see August. I've made fun of this month in years past, annoyed by its peak humidity and lack of holidays or things to look forward to. This year though, it is a breath of fresh air. Every soggy, hot minute of it.
There was anxiety on my part coming into this summer, as I added up my commitments and realized I had agreed to a lot more work than was going to be feasible. Trying to apply some sort of brakes, I turned off the writing part of my life. For some reason I thought that would be restful. Instead it was exhausting. I process out loud, understanding my thoughts best as I speak them or write them. So with a loaded schedule that removed me from the presence of friends, accompanied by a "sabbatical" from writing that was the opposite of restful, my brain grew slow and foggy. Add to that an unusually heavy and emotionally draining July, and I was an irritable, weepy woman.
August is here though! Praise! The promise of fall is beginning to flirt with those of us dreaming of orange trees and football games, and it's just a matter of time before we're pulling out boots and opening the windows.
In the middle of last month, spurred on by Jen Hatmaker and her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I also took a little break from media. We don't have cable and we watch limited TV, so it wasn't a loss to make some space there. Cutting myself off from social media required more sacrifice though. At first it was hard. Then it was easy. Eventually, I loved it. I savored the silence.
But in the mix of that July...the difficult days, the writing hiatus, the social media withdrawal, the schedule so full I couldn't see or talk to friends...somewhere in there, I began to question my need for community. I thought about how much simpler it would be to not really know what was going on with anyone else...how low maintenance it would be to stay away. I knew that life would be flat and lacking growth, but it seemed to require less energy than the alternative.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't actually moving towards becoming some sort of a recluse. But I thought about how seemingly simple it was. I saw the problems, but I also heard this voice telling me that it was safer. Quieter. Less messy.
I eventually pushed myself out and began to move back into the noisy warmth of community. Then I read twelve little words that captured it all so perfectly.
Ian Morgan Cron had me as a fan with Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me. He is honest, funny and kind, writing with a wisdom that gently nudges my heart back to the cross in the midst of wandering. When I started reading his latest book, Chasing Francis, my respect only grew deeper.
In a conversation between the story's narrator and a Fransican friar, the friar explains that he was once a teacher and then a hermit. Early into his days of isolation though, he says that "the Lord Jesus told me that being a hermit was too easy." Their dialogue moves on, but my mind stayed on those words. It was "too easy".
How often do we retreat because it is easier than the work of being present? How quickly do we pull away rather than putting in the effort to have the difficult conversations and engage in the relationships we would prefer to avoid, shutting down instead of opening up?
I'm a little embarrassed to tell you how many times in a single month I have to talk myself down from the cliff of swearing off writing forever. And I'm not sure you want to hear about all the moments I walk away from the opportunity to engage with others because silence is easier than awkward or honest conversation...easier than looking someone in the eyes.
I wonder how many mornings Jesus wanted to hide and how many days he resisted the temptation to isolate himself, because he knew how much we needed his life. We didn't need to just hear about it. We needed to experience it.
Adam had everything in the garden, except companionship, and God said it was not good. The life we find in community is messy and complicated and full of grey rather than black and white. It makes us laugh harder and mourn deeper. It is vulnerable and risky and incredibly worth it. Each step out whittles away the debris and shapes us into better versions of ourselves.
If we want to imitate Christ, we have to live in the throes of people and all that comes with them.
It's true that smaller circles and less engagement would be easier, but we were never called to the easy. We were called to something wider, borders we can only reach when attached and committed to others - the ones we love effortlessly and the ones with whom love is taxing.
So here's to nudging us all out a little further this week - letting go of what's easy to take hold of something richer.