Audio version read by Cheryl. alone-together.mp3
As an introvert by nature, I am surprised that I run to the window to watch people walk by, relishing the sense of assurance that sweeps over me knowing that I am not alone. Seems like there is a lot more walking going on as people escape the confines of their homes to enjoy the buddings of spring and some fresh air. I love the creativity of our neighborhood group. We put teddy bears in the window to delight the children as they walk by. Wednesdays is driveway chalk art day, and I can’t wait to put my limited artistic skills to work to bless my neighbors, most of whom I have not even met. I love that my sewing community is feverishly sewing masks for health care workers who, insanely, do not have them at their hospitals. My friends and I are doing Bible study in a group chat room, with the up side that my homebound friend with disabling health problems is able to join in the discussion for the first time in months. Social media has become an even more compelling source of connection and the humor is uplifting. Facetime with family has been elevated from an option to an anchor. Community is no longer something I take for granted. If there is an upside to the insidious little virus that has halted our normalcy, this is part of it.
And now the news – thirty more days! I suspect we are going to have a difficult time maintaining a positive outlook in our hunkered down existence hiding from an unseen foe. We will undoubtedly chafe at such restraints. Sometimes I feel like just running out and hugging somebody!! And loneliness can easily give way to depression.
As I search for perspective and encouragement I turn to my friend Henri Nouwen for insight. He shares what he gleaned from voluntary exclusion, a discipline for the soul. “Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self and the encounter with the living God who offers himself as the substance of the new self. Solitude is not a private therapeutic place. Rather it is a place of conversion … In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me – naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken – nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, and ‘nothing’ is so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree… The task is to persevere in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone.” The Essential Henri Nouwen. Here is someone who purposely chose isolation to enrich the soul, and his thoughts inspire me to welcome an unexpected limitation and transform it into liberation.
Let’s not let this crisis go to waste. For those who have tasted the goodness of God and who trust in His care, there is beauty in this tragedy. Jesus extends His hand to us and invites us to get out of the boat. We can learn to walk in the place we have avoided, an uncrowded hidden path, a road less travelled. Unexpected wonders abound along this quiet byway – the beauty of unadorned transparency, pretense abandoned at the trailhead! The thrill of not needing to pretend accompanies the delight of being embraced despite our failure and facade. We sense the seedlings of abundant life planted by the Spirit struggling to push through the heart depths to bloom in the light of accepted reality. It is a path where we unflinchingly face the substance of who we really are, accepting that we are in truth “… uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account”, and with unflinching honesty and courage relinquish illusions we have clung to for false comfort. Confidently we bask in His acceptance, revel in His unfathomable love. I think of that old hymn, where the author comes to the garden alone, and in the rapturous refrain exclaims “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” Embracing the imposed isolation and turning it into solitude, we can invite Jesus to turn our water into wine – an unimaginable gift.
Seeking, listening, praying, repenting, renewing our minds. Not a bad option! Perhaps, with a little persistence, this quarantine can facilitate a breakthrough instead of a breakdown! Let’s go for it! I’m with you.
“And may the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, Who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope, graciously encourage your hearts and strengthen them for all good in word and deed.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 Moffatt