Healthy aloneness offers internal security that can propel us to pursue life together.

Solitude can prepare us for community.

Community can balance the wonder of solitude.

While serving as a lead pastor, I also experienced the honor of meeting regularly with my accountability team. Our togetherness inspired my aloneness. Our community prompted my solitude.

Lives of both community and solitude keep us from becoming addicted to crowds. My group retreats in the mountains or at the beach lured me to retreat with no one but myself and my God. Those times helped me adjust, recover, forgive, and breathe again. Those times prepared me for reentering face-to-face conversations of honesty rather than churchese, of transparency rather that ambiguity, pacing the speed rather than being controlled by a religious machine’s manufactured pace. 

Alone. And in a crowd. Like Jesus.

Time away. And time together. Like Jesus.

Only one. Many as one. Like His early followers. Distant and distinct. All in one room, together. Like His early followers.

Corporate worship. Singing in the shower.

Ask yourself, “How am I doing with the balanced diet of community and solitude?”

Jesus stepped away from the crowd before stepping on water. In baptism, we immerse alone while others watch—a public reminder of personal renewal. Soaked in solitude while observed by community. In Holy Communion, we eat and drink alone, while surrounded by family and after offered elements by others in that family. Digesting doctrinal reality in solitude joined by community.

We are better alone with God when our lives are not only lived alone with God. We need friends who refuse to carry the luggage of their own personal preferences into the conversations. We need friends. True friends. Faithful, trustworthy, caring, honest, committed, dedicated, transparent friends.

Too many pastors and their families live in isolation. Too many live lonely and alone. Too many live with shallow, temporary relationships. Too many live controlled by pains of past relationships; they risk no more. Too many live supervised by their own schedules; they invest no time.

All people need people. All people need community and authenticity. All people need eyes to look back at them while minds pay attention and ears truly hear. All people need more than shallow, superficial, surface relationships. All people need more than gossip-centered, favor-centered, self-centered relationships. All people need true friends.

But how? How can genuine, deep friendships be created and designed? Especially among those who have been taught to not trust, those whose lives depend upon church success, those who carry the deep wounds of past betrayals.

How? Time. Time together. Much time together. And conversations. And prayers. And prioritizing building the relationships. Choosing. Choosing to see this as essential. Refusing. Refusing to let anything else steal it away. And preparing for such a community of a few deep friendships by not basing existence upon such relationships. Loving solitude enough to prepare ourselves for the adventure of those relationships.

I’m honored and humbled to know of relationships many decades deep. They might have appeared surprisingly, but they remained alive by intentionality. They grew by prioritizing time together. I recall the prayers and walks and meals and laughter. I remember the pain and the tears. I reflect on how waiting alone turned into waiting together. Friends to critique my sermons. Friends to ask me if I’m living what I preach. Friends to ask about my weaknesses and addictions and inner wars. Friends to laugh with me and play basketball with me and do nothing with me. Those conversations. Those confrontations. Those dares. Those words of encouragement. They did not just happen. We worked to be sure they happened. We wanted true friendships so earnestly that the conversations could become profound. We craved community so sincerely that the shore lured us to the deep.

My friend Basil could invest in our deep relationship for almost three decades because he also knew how to pray alone. He was not dependent upon my approval; he chose to enter my life as a true friend. We experience those conversations and confrontations because we both knew the Creator who designed us both. Our own solitudes prepared us both for community.

Are you afraid of such community? That’s normal but please don’t be. Disagreements do not need to destroy these friendships. They can strengthen them. Distance doesn’t need to destroy these friendships. It can reveal the commitment.

Are you pursuing this? Are you allowing painful relationships in the past rob you of present community? Are you satisfied with shallow friendships, or do you want more? I contend that you need more.

I did. I do.

I pray you do not miss the wonder of community in this world bombarded by isolation. Maybe deepening our relationship with God can help us do our part in ending the drought of relationships with other people.

This week’s spiritual discipline is Spiritual Friendships. Today’s blog is from the book Pause for Pastors.