Loners? Can We Really Isolate Ourselves?
On my evening commute the other day, I was amused by a motorcyclist who passed, wearing a club vest bearing the name “Loners”. Hmm! A club for loners? The club is evidently big enough and wide-spread enough that there is even a Tucson chapter. Maybe there is only one member per chapter?
A whole raft of equally plausible organizations ran through my mind like “The International Fellowship of Introverts” and “The Hermit Consortium”. Or how about “The American Association for the Promotion of Apathy” or “The Procrastinator’s Action Committee”?
Despite my amusement at a social club for loners, it reminds me that even the most independent of us still crave relationship. It is a basic need and a motivating force (for better or worse) in much of what we do. Because we are created for fellowship, with God and others, we are completed through relationships in ways that possessions, accomplishments, and experiences never will. The need is so strong that I will tolerate selfish abuse, duplicity, or even apathy. When I have had enough I may withdraw to prevent others from taking advantage of my need for relationship. (Probably why there is a club for loners in the first place!)
Witness the prevalence of “support groups” in our society. We know that we can survive almost anything as long as we can be in relationship with others who understand our losses or weaknesses. We will risk vulnerability in order to belong. Many are willing to endure humiliating, and sometimes painful rituals to be “initiated” into an organization such as a fraternity, sorority, or other social group. The need for relationship keeps a battered wife tethered to her abusive husband because she believes he is the only person on earth who would want a relationship with her.
The desire for relationship is not a learned response; we come wired that way from the womb. It is part of who we are as humans. God said, on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good for man to be alone.” The rest of the Bible shows us how this need drives us into all sorts of sinful behavior, trying to fill that relational void left when we fell from grace. Need for relationship may even underlie the “love of money.” I rationalize, “If I have enough money, people will like me.” But as the prodigal son learned, their attention is as fickle as mine.
Because relationship is such a critical need, it is also often a source of pain and grief. My sinful nature makes it virtually impossible for me to satisfy that need in someone else’s life in a way that does not often disappoint or damage. I am so focused on my own need, that it is only by the grace of God that I can ever give something of lasting value to someone else. But something in me makes me want to try, even at great risk.
The Triune God says, in Genesis 2, “Let us create man in our own image.” The desire for relationship is one aspect of that image that we reflect. It is also one attribute that was deeply damaged and distorted by the fall into sin. Rather than being dominated by the desire to give in relationship, we have been deceived into thinking happiness comes from what we receive from our relationships.
A while back I was thinking about eternity, and what it might be like. I became excited at the thought of living in perfect relationships – relationships uncontaminated by duplicity, fear, disinterest, or exploitation. Imagine what it might be like to live and work with others in transparent relationships that only strengthen and energize each other, and draw us into closer relationship with God – no secrets, no hidden agendas, no mistrust… no pain!
I am grateful that I have experienced glimpses of such relationship in this temporal part of eternity. I have been ministered to by some wonderfully grace-filled believers that reflected just enough of God’s love and kindness that I got a taste of what heaven might be like. I pray that I too, may be that to some others, and that where I lack, God will more than adequately make up.