I’ve been working in my back yard building a lattice privacy screen for a new patio area. The overall plan is somewhat ambitious. We are moving our current patio area into what is now garden area, while moving the garden to what is now all paving blocks. As part of the process, I’ve built a raised planter with a pergola and lattice wall, which eventually be covered with some form of flowering vine, thus giving us a privacy wall for the new patio area. While our current patio is adequate, it is somewhat public, as we sit virtually beside a busy sidewalk, and sometimes, it is simply nice to have a place of retreat and quiet.
And yet…despite the sometimes lack of insight, couth or appropriate reticence practised by folk on social networks and in our media, there is also a growing trend in our age towards an unhealthy isolation. In the more familiar language of popularized psychology, we call it the putting up of walls around our emotions and our true selves in order to keep others at a distance. The sad reality, though, is that many of us have been so wounded or are so afraid of being hurt in relationships that we effectively detach ourselves from any sort of honest, open or vulnerable connection with other people, and ultimately, with God. We may not have become actual hermits living in physical isolation from others, but emotionally, we have put up so many barricades, facades and pretenses that not only are we essentially “unknown” by other people, we often end up losing touch with our own human need for relationship. The poet John Donne said famously that no man is an island, yet many of us exist in such lonely relational detachment from others, that we are virtual recluses.
It was not for isolation but for community that we were created. God formed us for meaningful, mutual relationship with himself and with others. From our beginning in Eden, our very nature is to find our souls taught, nurtured, completed and blessed in loving relationship with our Creator and our fellow creatures. One of the tragic consequences of the Fall has been the severing of the intimate trust and dependency that God desired us to have with himself and each other, and carried to extreme, the result of sin is that we live in this state of fractured disconnect.
Part of our restoration in Christ is surely discovering the God-ordained freedom, courage, joy and trust to risk ourselves in openness and vulnerability with the Lord, and, I suppose, more cautiously, with others. Certainly, we can trust that He who made us, watches over us, knows all about us (including the number of hairs on our heads and the words we are about to speak ever before they are on our tongue), and gave His Son to die for us, is more than able to deal with, forgive and heal us for every sin, every shame, every failure and weakness and fear in our hearts. Indeed, the more we stop hiding, isolating and wall-building, and instead release our past, our pain and the whole of our hearts into his care, the more will we find ourselves renewed, made whole and given peace.
But equally, our restoration involves daring and discovering a new openness and vulnerability and honesty in our human relationships as well. Sadly, as human beings, we do not have the limitless graciousness of God, and undoubtedly we will hurt and be hurt by one another. Yet miraculously, it is within human relationships that the amazing graciousness of God does get manifest and shared, and often my first sense of the unconditional love of God will be glimpsed in the readiness of another person to forgive, accept and care for me just as I am.
And the true healing and formation of community within the Christian family, the church, must surely be where we above all give permission to ourselves and to one another to be less than perfect; to be mess-ups, sinners and failures; to be God’s incredible masterpieces who are yet very much under construction and far from complete; to be men and women struggling in recovery from our addiction to self and to sin and who are ready to encourage and support each other in the journey towards Christ-likeness rather than judge and damn one another for our incompleteness.
One of the best compliments I have ever heard given to our church is when one Sunday morning during our time for sharing of praises, an individual got up and said: “I like coming to this church. I’m a bit of a misfit, but somehow, I seem to fit in with you people!” Oh, that we could be such a motley crew of misfits who rejoice that God is at work in us, and that it is in compassionate, vulnerable, wall-less community together, that we find healing, are being fashioned more fully into the people who God made us to become.