Social Junkie Blues

Sipping coffee along a corner street café, my friend Marty peered over his dark rimmed glasses to make his concluding remarks. “Eventually the music stops each night, everyone goes home, and I’m facing my problems again. Alone. I can’t stand being alone, the silence is unsettling so I distract myself with whatever I can.”

cell phone

Let’s face it, we are a generation of social junkies. Want to freak a teenager out? Hide their phone and observe them panic within minutes. People wake up and fall asleep with a finger browsing the latest text message. Traditions of private prayers have been replaced by public posts. Of course, it’s healthy and natural to desire relational connections, and brilliant these can be made so easily with loved ones near and far. But for many people like Marty, the experience of being alone is something to be avoided and feared.

Paradoxically, in our quest to be fully connected in a vibrant community, our fear of loneliness may be holding us back. Addicted to the high of socialising, we’re afraid of withdrawal. Yet, it’s in the isolation that we reconnect with our true self—warts and all. It’s in the silence that we hear the movements of our own heart, calling us to face our problems and be free.

There is a soul richness to be found, and it’s a must for real relationships. But, it will remain out of reach until we leave the crowd behind. We have to come down and walk off our social junkie blues in the wilderness. Psychologist and theologian Henri Nouwen maps the terrain:

Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into fruitful solitude. … We must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. This requires not only courage but also a strong faith. As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty.[1]

Here’s the kicker. It’s out in the desert we discover we’re not alone. The wind whips up the sand, and new paths forward are uncovered. The Spirit guides us on. Jesus walks beside us, having defeated the accuser of our soul. And the Father feeds us when we’re too weak to stand. It’s in the wilderness that we become fully alive as we are made whole. [2] The community of love that is God lays out a table and satisfies our soul. It’s in this place we move from loneliness to solitude. It’s in this place we move from hostility to hospitality. From isolation to community. From oppressive loneliness to rich freedom.

Let’s be honest. This is minutes in the reading, but a lifetime in the living. No one loves the desert. But for people like Marty and I, the journey toward authentic community will always be a two- step dance: the left step of togetherness always alternates with the right step of solitude. As we courageously enter the desert places of life we are made acutely aware of both our deepest need to be loved and the One who is able to love us best. As this new reality of God’s presence is woven into our everyday lives a new richness in each of our relationships is born—and we finally beat the social junkie blues.

Ryan Vallee

[1] Nouwen, Henri. Reaching Out, pg 13. Harper Collins, 1995. Sounds like the valley of Baca in Psalm 84.

[2] Cf. 1 Kings 19; Psalm 23; Matthew 4.

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