Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone
in the midst of the land.
Isaiah 5:8 ESV
It was an ironic time for this verse to “come alive” for me. This morning at about 3:30 I was up with my 9 month old son and reading Isaiah. My boy has been sick and his congestion has made it very difficult for him to stay asleep. It is a rule of parenting that whenever something makes it difficult for your child to sleep, they pass that blessing right on down to you, sort of a pay-it-forward kind of situation.
So as we are in the rocking chair, and in between times when Asher was flailing around “looking for the perfect position”, I was reading the words of a prophet that I largely don’t understand, and have traditionally only grasped bits and pieces of his words. This is more my fault than Isaiah’s, but it’s the reality that I live in none-the-less. If fact, there is a reason that I tend to have the same three or four books of the Bible left every cycle of reading it through. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Leviticus serve as a perpetual reminder that I am a procrastinator still.
But in the physical night, and textual desert, I found a glimmer of light, a brief oasis for my labored mind. The words of the prophet in the above verse rang very clearly to me, namely because they were convicting me in an area of constant trouble.
I am an only child. My parents only had one, and I am it. This has provided opportunity for many jokes at my expense, many arm-chair psychiatric evaluations diagnosing the cause of my sometimes caustic personality, and as a category for me to be safely stereotyped into. It’s been a real joy for me. While those things may or may not be true, one of the things that is accurate is the fact that I can spend long periods of time by myself, in silence, and be quite content. Whether that is just my personality or conditioning from a childhood without siblings I’ll never know, but it is a part of my makeup. It’s not that I mind people and conversations and social intercourse, I do enjoy those things, but those things take a toll on me physically and mentally. I drain quickly in a crowd of people.
I offer this personal evaluation not to build excuses, gain sympathy, or even prove a point, I merely offer this because for me, and those like me, “Christian community” can often be more of a discipline than a natural extension of who we are. But, just like I pray, read the Scriptures, practice silence and contemplation, and read extra-Biblical spiritual authors – I must also practice the discipline of placing myself into the fellowship of community that God has led me to. And for clarity’s sake, I don’t despise any of the disciplines, that’s not the point. They aren’t disciplines because we hate them, they are disciplines because we wouldn’t always choose them. They are not “path of least resistant” types of things. I don’t always want to read or pray but I am always enriched and encouraged when I follow through and do what I know I should. “Feeling like it” has little to nothing to do with what is best for us.
So I read this verse and was again reminded of God’s plan and design for me, and for us all. We are not to live in isolation. Isolation is a dangerous place to exist. It is in isolation that we find our problems to be either bigger than anyone else’s, or smaller than everyone else’s. It is easier to lie to ourselves in isolation. We can create whatever world we want when we are by ourselves. (At times God leads us to wildernesses where we are indeed isolated, but with one enormous difference, He is there with us and He is always leading us through it, never telling us to settle in those places. God-ordained isolation should be approached with a tent, not a house.)
Even those among us who are extroverted, who prefer to be around and with others, are not immune to this kind of isolation. We drive enormous vehicles for very few people, we live in houses that are far larger than the number of occupants, we have dreams of owning more and more land, we look at tight-fitting subdivisions with disdain because we want room “to ourselves”. This is a part of the American dream. Our documents say that we believe all men are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, but that wording is a slight modification for the words of John Locke who coined the phrase, “life, liberty, property”. The idea of having “our own space”, our privacy, our domain, is very appealing to us.
But here’s the truth for us all: it doesn’t matter how many nights of the week we spend “going out” with people, we can still spend our entire life never “going in” with them. God’s plan for us is not merely social interaction. We are not just members of an organization, we are members of a “body”. What Isaiah says in this text is that there is a powerful tendency in us to gather the spaces around us and claim them for our own, thus creating a buffer zone between us and the rest of the world. but that isn’t safe, nor is it healthy.
Only when we relax our guard, lower our defenses, and open ourselves to the rest of our body can we begin to experience what citizenship in the “new kingdom”, the kingdom of Heaven is about.
As I rocked my son, and as he tried to rock me back, I read that verse and had to appreciate the setting. I don’t typically get up at 3am, I don’t generally do much “ministry” in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t allowed to be isolated last night. I was forced into a situation of the most intimate sort, holding a member of my family and doing my best to comfort and to care for him in his weakness. This is the picture of community that I see the New Testament talking about. Not a nebulous series of social connections and business card exchanges and Facebook “friends”, but a middle-of-the-night, hold-me, I’m-not-strong-enough kind of connection.
It is dangerous holding a sick child. I’ve been thrown up on, coughed on, pooped on, and drooled on. I’ve had my beard pulled, my glasses grabbed, my nose jabbed, and my eyes gouged. I’ve had my resolve tested by midnight tears, my patience pressed by repeated requests for water, and my heart broken by terror-filled accounts of nightmares.
It is a dangerous thing to live with open doors. But friends, it is far more dangerous to live without them. The cold indifference that can easily become status quo in the life of isolation is a far more dangerous thing than losing sleep ever could be.