Friday, December 2, 2011

You Were Right, Dietrich

I feel like I need to offer a disclaimer at the beginning of this post. If I have to do that, I suppose it means I shouldn't write it at all. But I'll keep going. What I want to say, though, is that this post can easily be read as though I'm throwing some sort of pity party. I don't mean to do that here (though I'm not above doing it on other occasions). I do believe, however, that we can learn lessons from the different stages of life, and we can learn from one another, so those experiences are worth sharing.

It's been four months since I moved into an apartment by myself. For the five years before that, I had lived in a dorm on a floor with 20 other guys. And for the 18 years before that, I lived with my family. So having my own place has been a pretty big shift. Whereas I used to sleep ten feet away from a roommate, I now have a whole 500 square feet space to myself. And while I used to sit in my colleges dining hall at a long table filled with my classmates, now I usually by myself at a little table or on the couch. And after a few months of this, here's the conclusion I've reaches: Living by yourself is kind of a drag.

As people, we need one another. It's imperative to have contact with one another, and to have it regularly, not just once a week at church or in class. We don't do so well in life when we try to navigate it solo, and this truth has been more evident to me over the last few months.

There are a lot of reasons that we need others. For one thing, other people keep us mentally sharp. In some ways, this is different from things I have said before on this blog. I have written before about how important it is to read widely because this enhances our thinking and makes us deeper people. We have a lot to learn from those who have gone before us and written down their insights, or from our contemporaries who see things differently than we do, or from twenty-somethings who write blog posts on their couch while watching football and drinking off-brand soda.

But that's not enough. Even if you sit and read all day long, your mind will get dull if it's all done in isolation. We become deeper not just by the ideas and information that we take in, but also through our interactions with each other. Since living by myself, I have done a lot of reading about ministry and theology. But I haven't talked with others about ministry and theology very much--at least not as much as I did when I was in undergrad. And having those conversations was important in my own development. We need challenge each other, to discuss together, and to question each other. This makes us more complete individuals. It makes us more reflective thinkers and more engaging communicators.

Not only that, but as we become duller in isolation from one another, it becomes even harder to meaninfully connect with others. Our ability to relate with others is like a muscle that needs to be worked out or else it atrophies. In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes:
When you live on your own for a long time, however, your personality changes because you go so much into yourself you lose the ability to be social, to understand what is and isn't normal behavior. There is an entire world inside yourself, and if you let yourself, you can get so deep inside it you will forget the way to the surface. Other people keep our souls alive, just like food and water does with our body. (152)
Another reason that we need each other is that a lack of community magnifies life's other problems. All of us deal with situations that we are difficult. I don't know of anyone who never has any worries or stresses. But we are able to deal with such things most effectively when we are living in community with others. For example, there were times in college when I was going through some crap--the stress of classes, uncertainties about my future plans, girls shooting me down. But at the end of the day, I would be sitting in a booth at Taco Bell with my friends, and all of a sudden all of these problems didn't seem so bad. On the other hand, if you're not experiencing that same sense of belonging, then your lousy job seems lousier, your lack of money seems more lacking, and the football player who's dating the girl you like seems even bigger.

I've come to believe that human beings weren't meant to live alone. We're designed to be together. And by that, I don't even just mean to do life together in the sense of being in a small group or meeting a friend for lunch every once in a while, though I do think those things are important. But when I say that we're meant to live together, I mean it in a literal way. I don't think it's good for a person to be the only one in a place of habitation. We are born into families--a natural set of housemates. And for the rest of our lives, it's good to be under a roof together, because that's where the benefits of community can happen on a daily basis. After all, no one wants to grow up to be a lonely cat lady.

In that same chapter of Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller goes on to write:
Jesus does not want us floating through space or sitting in front of our televisions. Jesus wants us interacting, eating together, laughing together, praying together. Loneliness is something that came with the fall.
If loving other people is a bit of heaven then certainly isolation is a bit of hell, and to that degree, here on earth, we decide in which state we would like to live. (173)
What other benefits of communal life are there that I didn't mention? What do we gain from doing life together?

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