When I was in primary school, one of the other parents approached my mom and rather tactlessly asked if there was something wrong with me. I was running around by myself, jumping, kicking when all the other kids were playing together.
I enjoy being lost in solitude.
The parts of the Christian faith that appealed most to me in the beginning were the contemplative and mystical: prayer, scripture, worship, meditation, fasting. Christianity was purely a way to connect with the divine, to develop this “relationship with God” as some Christians like to put it. I regarded spiritual mentorship and accountability as important, but I dismissed the spiritual value (necessity, even) of just showing kindness and enjoying the company of others. I put up with the social aspects of the faith, the church attendance, the prayer meetings, the youth camps – but purely as an act of obedience, not because I really felt that they were important in themselves.
Eventually if you read enough of the Bible, the person of Jesus Christ emerges, the Jesus who opens up and affirms the outcast Samaritan woman, the Jesus who miraculously conjures wine at a party, the Jesus who said to let the little children come to him, and not to hinder them. I slowly understood that the ideal Christian wasn’t the aloof hermit, but this joyful, warm, present Jesus.
Change was both slow and difficult. I invited small groups of friends over and made them dinner. I started saying yes to more social invitations. I made it a point to stay at parties as long as I could. All this social contact was emotionally exhausting, but the more I did it the better I coped with it. My growth in this area was so gradual that I did not realize what was happening- I was still saying that I was the type that didn’t like people when I was throwing parties for a hundred guests. Thanks be to God for grace, and for the patient, transformative power of the Holy Spirit.
It was a pleasant surprise that the time I invested in these social “distractions” wasn’t detracting from the contemplative, prayerful parts of my spirituality. On the contrary, I found that rather than just contemplating Christ’s death and the Christian calling to “carry our own cross”, I found more opportunities to sacrifice things that were important to me for the good of my neighbor. Rather than just meditating on the majesty of the divine, I found myself having to recognize the image of God in difficult people, to appreciate the essential beauty of the human person even when it is distorted by brokenness, hostility, or fear. Rather than just grappling with the abstract theology of sin and forgiveness, I found more situations where I could encounter wickedness and yet choose the path of reconciliation rather than anger, and repent of my sins rather than judge the failings of others.
Only by bringing the inward and outward parts of my faith together could I begin to discover the fullness of joy that is in Jesus Christ.