A Healthy Independence

I write a lot about the importance of practicing biblical community and will continue to do so until the day I die. Christian fellowship isn’t a luxury; it is a necessity. And unmarried folks, like myself, feel the weight of that need every day. Married people feel it, too—no doubt. But because we singles don’t have the built-in fellowship that accompanies marriage, we live with a constant awareness of our dependence on the body of Christ. We can’t follow Jesus solitarily. We need other believers to open their lives to us beyond Sunday mornings and view us as blood-bought family members.

However, I do think there is something to say for single Christians possessing a healthy sense of independence. I’m not at all proposing that we should live under the delusion that we can function healthily apart from community—that would be spiritual suicide. Experiencing the love and fellowship of God tangibly through the corporate body of Christ is absolutely necessary for the survival of our faith. But there is a sense in which we should be okay spending a degree of time by ourselves. We should be able to stay home alone on a Friday night without spiraling into self-pity. We should be able to maintain our sanity if we have to go a few days without having meaningful conversation with close friends. We shouldn’t throw a temper tantrum if someone can’t drop everything to hang out with us on the spur of the moment. We shouldn’t be embittered toward our married friends who must prioritize their spouses and children over us.

But how do we do this? It is hard to be alone. I personally know the difficulty of having no plans on Friday night, going a few days without meaningful conversation, and having to embrace the reality that most of my friends have relational priorities that come before me. People who know me in this season of my life tend to describe me as a naturally independent person. They observe my [relatively recent] ability to spend time by myself without losing my mind and assume I’m just wired in such a way that I don’t feel the need to always be with people. But that is not the case! I am not inclined to be independent—I’m actually inclined to be highly codependent! In my pre-Jesus days, no one would have described me as an independent person. I jumped from love-interest to love-interest with little to no time elapsing between relationships. I constantly surrounded myself with friends who were equally as codependent as I was to ensure they would stay attached at my hip. And if I ever felt my love-interests or friends weren’t as invested in me as I was in them, insecurity and depression overcame me. I needed the people in my life to keep me emotionally afloat by constantly affirming their love and acceptance of me. I was the epitome of “needy.”

So what’s changed since then? Well, a couple of pretty major things:

  • God has made his home within me. I know this sounds nuts to the unspiritual mind. There are times it still sounds nuts to me! But I believe the Bible to be true in everything it says, including what Jesus teaches in John 14:23: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” When I surrendered myself to Christ, the presence of God graciously invaded my soul. It is not just the spirit of Matt Moore that lives within my body; the Spirit of Christ indwells me. In a very literal, non-ethereal sense, God always accompanies me. There are times when I am so submerged in all my gadgets or lost within my a-mile-a-minute mind that I am not aware of his presence. But when I slow down and quiet my soul, I am aware of him. I know that he is with me, and that I am never really alone.
  • The Holy Spirit continually affirms that I am loved and accepted by God. Before I became a Christian, my compulsive clinging to others was propelled by my need to feel loved and accepted. Deep down in my soul, something was fractured. I was broken off from the greatest good, the greatest comfort, and the greatest love. In my faithless, unrepentant state, I was detached from God, and my soul suffered the painful consequences: feeling alone, empty, and void of peace. So I chased after others in an attempt to fix what was broken, only to realize that no one was capable of satisfying me to the depths I desired. But when I bowed the knee to Jesus, God satisfied those deep needs. And he continues to do so. The Holy Spirit is continually reminding me that I am truly loved and fully accepted by the Greatest Good, the Greatest Comfort, and the Greatest Love. He reminds me that God the Father looks at me with tender affection and promises that he will never leave me or forsake me. He reminds me that my faith in Christ eternally secures me in the purest and most satisfying love that exists.

It is vital that we experience the love and acceptance of other human beings. We are relational creatures with relational needs that God sees fit to meet through other people. But friends—especially my fellow singles—we don’t have to look to human relationships to satisfy us at the deepest level. If we are in Christ, the best company that exists in the entire universe lives inside of our hearts. We are reconciled to the One from whom the most robust forms of love and comfort come. Therefore, we can be secure and stable enough to be alone sometimes. We don’t have to cling to others in unhealthy codependence.

You might be thinking, “That sounds great, but it’s not that easy, Matt!” I agree; it’s not. Being aware of God’s presence and feeling secure in his love doesn’t usually just happen. In the first couple of years of my walk with the Lord, before I began seriously pursuing him every day, I struggled tremendously with feeling alone and dissatisfied with the level of community that God was providing. But as I’ve endeavored to draw near to God every day over the last few years, I have grown increasingly content in him and satisfied with his provision. That daily pursuit of God is everything. We have to cultivate our relationship with him. We have to get away from the gadgets and get out of our busy minds and set our gaze in his direction. We have to seek him in prayer and meditate on his self-revelation in the Bible. But you guys, I can tell you from experience that God is there to be found, and his comfort and love are totally sufficient to satisfy the deepest needs of your soul. If you’re lonely today, draw near to him. He is ready and willing to meet with you.

  • Lyle Nelson

    Matt, this is excellent! The word that comes to mind when I read this is “balance”, i.e. existing some of the time in community and some of the time in solitude. Although he doesn’t explicitly mention community or lack thereof, in Phillippians 4:12, Paul talks about “learning to be content in every situation” which certainly encompasses community.

    If we feel that we “must” have community whenever we feel a need for it, that most likely means that God is not occupying first place in our lives and we have become emotionally dependent on community to meet a need that can only be met by God. I have personally been in a place where I felt I HAD to have community. And that became so emotionally painful, especially when there was a lack of the community I wanted, or a conflict of some sort (which there will always eventually be when we are relating to imperfect people), that I became fearful of being hurt, and went to the other extreme of isolation, which is not healthy either. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with isolating occasionally, when something painful has happened that you’re not ready to share with others except God, but when it becomes an ongoing thing, then there’s a problem.

    And being imperfect humans, we won’t always get it right. There will be times when “God within us” just doesn’t seem to be enough, particularly if we can’t feel His presence, and if people are not available for us, it will probably be very painful, and we may tend to run to something else (food is the big thing for me). And there will be times when we really need community for support, but we just don’t want to deal with the issues that sometimes come with it (my pastor frequently says that “community is messy”).

    So it takes work to achieve the right balance, but the contentment and peace we can achieve when we do make it worth the effort.

  • Another great posting, Matt! I will, however, defend the point of view that the good Lord DOES anoint some of his flock to live even more independently than was suggested herein. If one loves themselves and loves God Who never leaves them nor for sake’s them, personal fulfillment and contentment can exist in a fruitful and spiritual manner. God bless!

  • Jerry <

    Thanks Matt.

    As a married dude I need my male friendships – ,married and single dudes. I am grateful that my buddies who are single do not disqualify me from friendship because I am married. Likewise, I do not disqualify single dudes from friendship with me. http://prodigal-ministries.com/blog/the-real-program/

    • Eddie

      I’m glad to hear you say that. For me, I love my male friends, married and single, like they were brothers, a second family. Unfortunately, when my male buds got married I tended to see a lot less of them afterwards. I get it that they now have family obligations and their time is limited/split between family and work. Jerry, I do want you and my married buds to be happy in your marriages. I really do. I just can’t help but feel lonesome about it.

  • William Okc

    Good stuff Matt. One of the consolations in the present life is catching glimpses of heaven. It’s a delicate balance of not being too much in our own imaginations and not too much in the world either. “The Kingdom of Heaven”, the Lord said, “is within you.”

  • Lynn Cole

    I Loved this Matt! Thanks so much, I too have found this to be a wonderful reality!