Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
- James 1:2-3
“Every day brings the Christian many hours of being alone in an unchristian environment. These are times of testing. This is the proving ground of a genuine time of meditation and genuine Christian community. Has the community served to make individuals free, strong, and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while so that they would learn again to walk by themselves, or has it made them anxious and unsure? This is one of the toughest and most serious questions that can be put to any form of everyday Christian life in community [Lebensgemeinschaft]. Moreover, we will see at this point whether Christians’ time of meditation has led them into an unreal world from which they awaken with a fright when they step out into the workaday world, or whether it has led them into the real world of God from which they enter into the day’s activities strengthened and puriﬁed. Has it transported them for a few short moments into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it planted the Word of God so soberly and so deeply in their heart that it holds and strengthens them all day long, leading them to active love, to obedience, to good works? Only the day can decide. Is the invisible presence of the Christian community a reality and a help to the individual? Do the intercessory prayers of the others carry me through the day? Is the Word of God close to me as a comfort and a strength? Or do I misuse my solitude [Alleinsein] against the community, against the Word and prayer? Individuals must be aware that even their hours of being alone [Alleinsein] reverberate through the community. In their solitude they can shatter and tarnish the community or they can strengthen and sanctify it. Every act of self—discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community. Conversely, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one’s body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill. This is the appropriate metaphor for the Christian community. Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or to its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence. This is not a theory, but a spiritual reality that is often experienced in the Christian community with shocking clarity, sometimes destructively and sometimes beneﬁcially.
“Those who return to the community of Christians who live together, after a successful day, bring with them the blessing of their solitude, but they themselves receive anew the blessing of the community. Blessed are those who are alone in the strength of the community. Blessed are those who preserve community in the strength of solitude. But the strength of solitude and the strength of community is the strength of the Word of God alone, which is meant for the individual in the community.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Bonhoeffer caused me to relook at my entire life with this quote. I had a lot of solitude in my life. As an introvert, I loved the solitude, but I do not know if the solitude loved me – in the long run.
Of course, since I loved solitude, I did not much like those times when solitude was interrupted. Maybe as a result, my social skills became awkward. Okay, they definitely became very awkward. I thought I had some friends that were close, as close of a friend as I would allow, but then that was not that close. In retrospect, my neighbor in Germany still writes us once each year, but the husband of that couple once told my wife that when he first met me, he thought I was a royal jerk (or was it ‘flaming’?), but after a while, he changed his mind. I was really okay. That is about the best I have ever gotten and since they still write the one Christmas letter each year, my wife and I are at least worth the cost of a stamp. Then again, it may just be my wife who has that friend.
Otherwise, my platoon sergeant, who passed away over ten years ago, was the only other long-lasting friend that I ever had. His wife told my wife that I was the only commissioned officer who treated her husband, and her as well, as if they were human beings. Truth is, I loved them both as a brother and sister.
But as for my alone time, my mother could put me in the bedroom and make sure I was playing with my toys, and she knew that I would still be in my bedroom playing with my toys six to eight hours later, especially when the bathroom was right across the hall. All the years of living on a farm meant that the neighborhood kids were not going to come by and ask if I could come out to play. Much of my solitude was natural, in that there were no neighborhood children. I learned how to punt a football to myself, very high, but straight up. I never knew until decades later that my skill was treasured in rugby, kicking it high and not far away so that you could retrieve your own kick.
As I got older and I became more aware of humanity in general, the battlefield for my mind started to take center stage. There was the Bible on one side and there was the world on the other. I was tested on every one of the Ten Commandments while in solitude. And while a few may have never gone past the first thought, I could think of ways to think about the other sins, all at once. I even cheated at Monopoly, even when I was playing against those dastardly clever opponents: Me, Myself, and I. Yes, four players, all of them me, and I cheated!!!!!
For most of my married life, solitude was nearly impossible. I had become a Christian not that many years before. I thought the battlefield of my mind when I was in solitude was over, but then twenty years later, I got a job where I traveled the world, and I had a lot of solitude.
To get a thought in your head is not a sin. That is just a test. What you do with that thought is what may become a sin, in thought, in word, in deed. I know. I have had a lot of practice, and in about ten days or so, I will come back to that thought (a few other special posts must play out first), but as the thoughts come to mind, do you think of a Bible verse to quote, as Jesus did during the wilderness temptations? Do you try to battle it alone, and fail? Have you ever said, “God, I have no idea where that thought came from, but I am unable to banish it. Could you do that for me?” And if you have, how long was the peace that ensued?
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.