Who are you when no one is around? When no one is watching?
I’ve been asked this question a number of times in the church setting. The pastor is in the middle of teaching a lesson on sin. He reminds us that God can see everything and no sin will go unpunished.
That is true of course, but unfortunately it is one of the few references ever made in church to us being alone. Another is from Genesis when God says it is not good for a person to be alone. And this pretty much sums up the church’s theology of time alone – it leads to sin and it’s generally a bad choice.
But we forget Jesus.
People shape us more than any other type of influence. We could read a hundred books, watch movies for months on end, travel the world, but at the end of the day the turning points in our lives are usually the result of conversation with other human beings.
This is good. God intended it to be this way, he loves relationships which is why he desperately wants to share one with us.
Keep in mind, though, the reason people are able to shape us is due to their being different from us. If we were constantly surrounded by likeminded, same-aged, same-goaled individuals we would never change. And growth requires us to change.
So if our goal is to grow as human beings, as Christians, and as whatever it is we want to be successful at we have to see people and change as necessities, as aides not detriments to our goals. But we will never be able to interact with people and change unless we spend time alone.
Marilyn Monroe might not be the first person who comes to mind when discussing spiritual development, or anything having to do with Christ for that matter. However there are definitely some lessons to glean from her persona.
She was her own person.
This, more than anything else, will define your happiness and success in life. Those are really cheesy words, and dangerous when used inappropriately, but they are still huge motivations in life. We strive, pray, sacrifice, study, marry, move, reach – all to achieve some level of happiness and success. But what do those levels look like? If your goals look like paper cut-outs of someone else’s, you’re probably never going to be happy – especially when you actually reach those goals.
But isn’t that the formula: set goal, reach goal, enjoy life. What if that goal is wrong?
As I grow in faith and in life I’m beginning to see the error of following such a rigid system of satisfaction, and how rarely it leads to what it promises. God created us unique for a purpose: to be unique. Groundbreaking I know. But seriously, Abraham could not have done Moses’ job, King David could not have been a disciple, Rahab’s story was much different than Mary’s. They each had their own role to fulfill and so do you. Be your own person. Set your own goals.
She knew what she wanted.
I’m horrible at choices. I freeze up when there are too many options in front of me. In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz lays out the psychology of choice and argues it is actually better to have fewer choices.
It’s easy to want everything – to be a part of every group, to see every movie, to accomplish every goal – but that mindset leads to unrealistic aspirations and disappointment.
Limiting ourselves actually benefits ourselves. This is the beauty behind Apple’s ridiculous success. Before they were the rockstars they are today they had many many products but none of them were selling very well. So they cleaned house, cut down their products from 100+ to fewer than a dozen. You know what happened? They exploded because they were focused.
Despite her faults, Ms. Monroe was focused. She kicked butt at what she did simply because she didn’t waste time trying to be someone she was not or trying to accomplish something she didn’t really want – even if it would have looked really good on her resume.
She knew what she wanted. We have to figure out what we want to.
Being alone helps us reach these two goals: becoming our own person and figuring out what we want.
In Matthew 4 Jesus heads out into the desert alone, led by the Spirit, in order to be tempted. I find this amazing. Usually when we head off alone it’s to catch our breath, escape life for a bit and just enjoy some peace. But when Jesus traveled into the wilderness, he traveled with a purpose – to be tempted. The temptation came, he overcame all three instances with Scripture and upon reentering back into the world began a ministry which changed the course of history.
Well he’s Jesus so of course he can do that.
Listen, Jesus being fully God does not diminish his being fully man as well. Jesus was his own person, he knew what he wanted and he confirmed these things in his alone times. Jesus regularly took time away from his disciples to seek God and to reestablish the mission he had been sent to accomplish. His time alone climaxes at the scene of Gethsemane. He goes deep into the garden to pray. He needed to be reminded, refreshed, restored. Jesus, the begotten son of God – his own person. Jesus, savior of the world – he knew what he wanted.
Our ability to be in community will shape our development. Our ability to be alone will define our character.
What have you learned about yourself from your times alone? What makes you your own person? Do you know what you want?