Alone time. It has a beautiful ring to it, doesn’t it?
Sometimes, retreating from others gives us space to grieve and grow, to process, to heal, and to listen to God’s still, small voice. But sometimes, retreating from others can give us too much space; space to swim in convincing lies, space to simmer in our own bitterness or jealousy or anger or comparison.
When I was in the Netherlands, I loved listening to online sermons. I happily made my way through this and that, watching American pastors and reading devotionals written by American women. There is nothing wrong with watching sermons, reading blogs and books or having devotionals; I highly encourage it all! However, I began to feel more and more tempted towards my cultural comfort zone bubble; to do these things instead of going to church, instead of being involved with small groups and bible studies, instead of fellowshipping with living, breathing Christians.What’s the problem? you might ask. When all of my God time was also alone time, I was missing out on what God was doing in and through the people he placed all around me. As it turns out, I am not the only person in communication with God, and while I was sitting and waiting for the still, small voice to come catering specifically to me, my friends were outside shouting for joy about what God was showing to them.
We’re made in the image of a relational God, a triune God. I will not attempt to dive into a doctrinal breakdown of the Trinity, but I will say that, if my understanding is correct, God has been three distinct persons in one unified being from the beginning of forever and He remains that way today. For me, this means that our desire for community is a natural consequence of our “divine design,” if you will. We’re designed to be in community and it serves us in more ways than one. With others, we get to see things through a new perspective. The community God provides for us shows us pieces of His character that we would completely miss on our own. In other words, each of us has been created with something unique to offer the others; when we distance ourselves from one another, we are not only missing out on God’s glory in their lives, but we’re depriving them of what God would like to show them through ours.
A second reason Scripture gives us for living in deep community is that we are insanely blind to our own faults, but so quick to point the finger at others when they fail. God in His grace is actually trying to help us to use this for our own good. While we’ve likely all heard the “remove the plank from your own eye first” speech, a lot of times it really is easier to see where things are going wrong when you’re on the outside. We need people around us who can identify the killer parts of our lives and point them out to us in love.
We need each other for so many reasons, but how tempting is it to shut everybody else out sometimes?
The same temptation finds me at seminary. I want to retreat to my bubble because it’s comfortable and it feels productive. It even almost feels extra spiritual. But what a dangerous place to put ourselves in, isolated from the very people who can tell us that that thing we’re worrying about is lies, lies and more lies. We all want to be strong, independent women. How much stronger could we be if we’re all helping to hold up each other? What would it look like to have a healthy dependance on the people around us?
This is exactly what God encourages us to find out.
I love the book of Hebrews. I think it has some of the most incredible and tangible descriptions of Jesus Christ. It truly leads me to worship. So, of course, I was thrilled when I saw that the verse guiding the core of All the More was from none other than Hebrews.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
As I thought more about it, it’s actually a very ambitious verse for a website. Here I am now, helping to contribute to the very kind of thing I used to use to sink away from community in the church, hoping it will encourage other women towards God through community in the church! To use a horribly overused and possibly misattributed quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”However, you have the chance to learn from my mistakes, not repeat them.
All of that said, let’s talk about a few of the mistakes I’ve made, because boy have I made them in this department.
1. Prioritizing the “Christian elite” over the Christians around us. The “Christian elite” may have a lot to teach us about God, but when it comes down to it, their ability to encourage us and sanctify us only goes as far as we let them when we choose which podcast to listen to or which book to read. God has given us a community in which to engage and participate, don’t take that gift for granted!
2. Sitting alone in bitterness and choosing to call it “rest.”
This one is uncomfortable to talk about – has anybody else been there? Retreating to a secret, quiet place to “rest” or “process” only to sit and simmer in our sin without a soul to gently point it out? It’s much easier to justify my feelings when there’s no one there to contradict me. It’s especially during the times when we feel this way that we need to reach out for a lifeline.
3. Allowing other’s relationships with God to dictate your own.
Finally, there’s the opposite end of the spectrum: an unhealthy dependence on the spiritual
strengths of others. When our ability to build one another up turns into a dangerous competition for their attention, you have to ask, and this may hurt, “Who am I really worshipping?”
All of these have been toxic for my faith, but God’s grace is bigger than my downfalls. Maybe you’re in a place where you feel like you really don’t have community around you. He tells us that He desires to give us the things that we truly need; ask and you will receive – so look around and get plugged in!
I want to exhort you to never stop meeting together, to engage wholeheartedly with an all for one and one for all kind of attitude, and to use this blog (and other tools like it) as the supplementary cherry on top of your community-rich sundae. Let’s encourage each other together, all the more.