Toddlers and teenagers.
Dinners and diapers.
Cooking and cleaning.
Hard conversations and difficult dynamics.
Sequestered in close quarters with our spouses and children, siblings and in-laws, this unprecedented year has accentuated these things in all of our lives. Shelter-in-place orders have forced us to face difficult things, tackle mundane things, revive forgotten things, reinforce important things and rediscover lost things.
Here. At home.
In 1 Kings 17, the premiere prophet of the Old Testament had been sequestered at Cherith for roughly eighteen months. He’d grown accustomed to the context and cadence of solitude. But then, on one day when the water had run dry, “The Word of the Lord came to him saying ‘Arise, go to Zarephath . . . and stay there,’” (1 Kings 17:8). In this new dynamic, Elijah would shift from living alone to existing within the context of family. He would make his home with a single mother and her son until the drought in Israel ended.
This new context – with its daily mundane demands and relational nuances – would methodically and intentionally unwind him from the ingrown tendencies that unrestrained solitude at the ravine in Cherith may have worked in him. He would transition from a life in which only his own needs required consideration to one in which an awareness and thoughtfulness of others would be essential.
Theologian and Bible scholar F. B. Meyer writes:
Many a man might bear himself as a hero and saint in the solitudes of Cherith or on the heights of Carmel and yet wretchedly fail in the home life of Zarephath. It is one thing to commune with God in the solitudes of nature [as in Cherith] and perform splendid acts of devotion and zeal for Him in the presence of thousands [like on Carmel], but it is quite another to walk with Him day by day in the midst of a home with its many calls for constant forgetfulness of self.
The constant give and take of family life – even a surrogate family – is the dynamic that God often uses to mold us in a unique way. Solitude may be beautiful and restful, but without the counterbalance of community it can also make us self-absorbed – stuck inside our own thoughts and needs, unconcerned and unable to walk in relationship with others. Too much separation can cause us to become hardened, narrow, desensitized and one dimensional. People become little more than a bother or a threat, a problem we’re forced to bend our plans and agendas around instead of a holy opportunity and gift to relate to.
Have you ever noticed that it often seems easier to sense the peace and presence of God and exhibit the fruit of His Spirit when you are alone – off on a retreat or rocking on the back porch, or overlooking a placid lake while sipping hot coffee and listening to worship music from a self-curated playlist. In solitude, there are no interruptions. Nothing and no one pulling us away or challenging our choices. No compromise is required or expectations unmet. Patience is not required or cultivated. Only our own needs, desires and struggles are considered in solitude.
But when there are dishes to be done, household projects to tackle, problems to solve, relational dilemmas to disentangle, people to serve and prioritize or last-minute homework help to provide, it’s much harder to keep that same awareness of God’s presence and live in light of it.
And yet, the fruit of God’s Spirit – virtues like patience, gentleness and kindness – are not cultivated in contexts where they are not required. So “God places the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6), at least in part, to produce in us what solitude cannot.“God places the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6), at least in part, to produce in us what solitude cannot.
The most beautiful and astounding opportunity for this is the family of God into which we are born when we place faith in Jesus. When, by His grace, we “are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:18).
We are a part of a family. His family. In the household of God.
As we navigate life with one another in the context of church life, we are essentially navigating family life, where there is ongoing opportunity for our maturity and purification to be achieved. When we are firmly planted and functioning actively within the family, we are refined, our inner lives are pruned, our character developed and our sense of self is progressively stripped. Beyond our own natural families, the body of Christ is the context where we are never alone, even if we live alone. Instead, our brothers and sisters become a part of the story that God is telling through our lives. These fellow sojourners are our family members and the Father develops all of us as we relate to each other. So, sister, “do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as some are accustomed to” (Hebrews 10:25).
You belong here.
This is your home.
We are your family.
*This is an excerpt from Priscilla’s latest study “Elijah: Faith and Fire” which will be released January 2021!