Dear Loner Christian,
Careful. You just read that and jumped to assumptions. I’m not sure which assumption, but you jumped. Somewhere. Maybe you read my greeting and congratulated yourself, “I’m not a loner. Hallelujah, those poor losers.” Or, perhaps you are feeling so alone that the thought of someone touching on your loneliness makes you cringe even more.
“Loner” has never had positive connotations. It’s closely linked to social awkwardness and an emo complexion. It’s part of some of the most emotionally charged words in the English vocabulary: alone, loneliness. We don’t compliment people by saying, “He’s just such an amazing loner!”
I see you shrug. So what?
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Proverbs 18:1
We live in a country of fierce individualists. March to the beat of your own drum. Make your own path. Find your voice. Spread your wings. Be YOU. And while that is sometimes good, and often beautiful, isolation (cleverly disguised as independence) can creep into our Christian walk.
It comes in all shapes and sizes… “I don’t go to church. After all, it’s just me and Jesus. Why do I need something so formal and rigid?”
“I go to church, but there’s no one there who really gets me. I find my social circle elsewhere.”
“Oh, yes, I go to church, but when it fits into my schedule. God made the beach, right? So during the summer, I have church at the beach.”
“I just haven’t found a place where I actually want to serve. All the old ladies seem to have everything covered.”
“Um, I don’t really need another weekly commitment, so a Bible study or small group isn’t my “jam.””
“I forgot to go.”
“I’m scared to go.”
“I’m bored when I go.”
When we live this way, the writer of Proverbs states that we, “break out against all sound judgment.” That’s not a phrase we use very often these days, is it?
In my house, we have hardwood floors. They’re gorgeous. And 127 years old. If you were to go down to my basement, you would look up and see the underside of my floors. Each board. Joined together. Held up by slender 127-year-old beams and nails. My kids pound across these floors. Just this morning they were hurling kettlebells around and thunking chairs across the floor. My floors are sound and solid. But imagine if my floors were a little less secure. A child was hurtling along and crashed through the floor, straight to the basement. One wrong, unexpected step and the wood beneath them gave way.
That’s what this writer is saying. A person who chooses to be alone, who intentionally isolates themselves from godly community, is walking across rotten floorboards, just waiting to crash. (Also, if you want proof that this writer would stipulate godly community, just read the rest of the book of Proverbs. Trust me. This isn’t just a blanket affirmation of all types of community.) When you choose the lone-wolf Christian lifestyle, you’re asking for destruction.
Wait a second. Don’t walk away faithful church goer.
Sometimes, we go every single week… but we’re still alone. We sit in the same seat, we sing the same songs, we put on the same smile, and we make polite small talk with the same people. You look like you’re plugged in. But you’re not.
You’re all alone.
“Yes!” you shout. “That’s me! I’m trying. I am.” Your heart aches. Your soul is thirsty. And you don’t know why those “iron sharpening iron” friendships (Prov. 27:17) never seem to grow in your life.
Loneliness in this situation often grows out of two things: hypocrisy and selfishness. Not words we typically use to describe ourselves or our Christian walk. I’m very good at both, and I’ve used them with varying degrees of success during my long tenure as a church goer. In fact, as a “socially groomed introvert,” I battle them regularly.
1. Hypocrisy. I’m perfect. You’re perfect. We’re all perfect. We had better not let our perfect halos slip and bump our perfect smiles off our perfect faces. Um, guys? We’re not perfect. None of us. I love this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ““It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness… The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!””
Let’s stop faking perfection. I’ll give you a tip: this is hard to do on Sunday morning during corporate worship. Not impossible. But hard. So, join a Bible study, small group, or discipleship club. Whatever your church calls it. Get plugged in. Show up. And spill your guts. Invite people into your mess. Not simply so you can feel better about yourself, but because you need people that will hold your feet to the fire of sanctification. People who will ask you tough questions and love you in hard ways. Be honest to other Christians about your sin. That’s the first step.
2. Selfishness. The step of confessing your sin is tough. Everyone wants someone else to go first. Everyone wants someone else to be a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Everyone wants someone who will go the extra mile. Stop waiting. Confess first. Stick closer than a brother first. Go the extra mile first. Love others by leading in transparency and commitment!
A final quote by my friend, Bonhoeffer, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
You can do it. I promise.
A Former Loner Christian