Social Minimalism

green wooden chair on white surface
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Recently, I found myself wondering how my life ended up where it is. It’s not that my life is in shambles or anything of that sort. It’s just markedly different compared with nine months ago.

Slowly, and without realizing it at first, I began drawing away from relationships and environments that quietly tortured my soul. In the winter of 2018, I started disengaging from church. I no longer went to pre-service prayer or led it once a month. I was out of town for a number of Sundays during the spring, and noticing that my lack of attendance didn’t hinder my relationship with Jesus and that no one really seemed to notice that I was gone, I took additional Sundays off even though there wasn’t anywhere in I particular that I needed to be. I pulled myself out of another ministry I was involved in, and one day, I realized that I had withdrawn from serving at church entirely—even though that was not my initial plan.

One day, I realized that I wasn’t going at all. I was working about 60 hours a week, and Sunday was my only day off, so I stayed home. I quickly realized with some disappointment and sadness that I did not miss church or the nosiness, competitiveness, and meanness I encountered far more often than I thought I should. I felt happy and peaceful with the release but sad—ideally, church should be a place of refuge.

And with my work schedule, I was glad to have an excuse to tell friends that I couldn’t get together because I was working a lot and didn’t have the bandwidth to battle traffic and insane drivers to make it to a coffee shop or a restaurant after work or during the precious little time I had to relax on Sunday. I found myself at home painting, writing, reading, and sitting on the couch, and for the first time—I didn’t feel guilty for being selfish with my time.

So, in these concluding months of 2018, I have found myself living in a small house at the end of a dead end street where the only cars I don’t recognize are ones that have made a wrong turn, and where my regular visitors are a pair of cardinals who like to eat from the bird feeder I installed outside the house. Their names are Jasper and Emily. I go to work, take a pottery wheel class, and reach out to friends when I am ready. It’s a lovely existence.

My life is small, but I like it that way. It is clutter-free, and I can think more clearly than I have for some time.

During this time of seclusion, I have begun to pick up neglected thoughts about friendship that I have not considered in a while. I used think about how most people only have a handful of friends who they can claim as kindred spirits in a lifetime. There are different people in our lives during different seasons, and most times, those people come and go. But other than these good friendships that change as life changes, who are these other people we fill our lives with? Are they life-giving? Or, are they social capital and compensation for loneliness?

I prefer the life-giving ones because I have learned how to deal with loneliness, which is pretty much a side effect of living. We’ll all be lonely at some point in life. And as with most things in life, the importance of social capital fades and ebbs away with time—and becomes meaningless—but what is life-giving can reverberate throughout a lifetime, and often, beyond.

3 Comments

  1. Rachel,

    yes, ” we’ll all be lonely at some point in life,” or at least feel it that way. In this season God will teach you and guide you to your next step(s). Earnestly seek him, trust him. And ” Do whatever he tells you.”

    God, not church, is our refuge. And there is only one true life-giving person–Jesus Christ! Remember, you are not your own; you belong to the One who purchased you by his precious blood. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

    Peace,

    HB.

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  2. Loneliness is an interesting thing. I remember being a student at Regent and the president then, Dr. Carlos Campo, had his Pastor speak at chapel. This was before the Divinity building and Chapel were built, so it was in the Moot Courtroom in Robertson Hall. He was talking about how when you walk with God it sometimes means that you have to learn to “subject yourself to loneliness.” Dr. Corne Bekker also preached one Sunday at New Life Church and he said it is not until one comes to the “end of themselves” that they really find God and that often only happens in the lonely place.

    It’s like there is a “good” loneliness and “bad” loneliness. Where in the bad, it can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, all kinds of bad habits, etc. When it’s good, there’s a peace in it while at the same time longing for real companionship, but not jumping at the first thing that comes along. We all need somebody to bounce our thoughts off of, challenge our views, and live life with, or how else will we know if what we think is way off the mark or how we feel about an issue needs another viewpoint. We can stress ourselves out over an issue that really isn’t as big as we’re making it, but because nobody (especially someone with wisdom) is there to say “look at it this/that way” we just continue dwelling on it.

    It is a difficult thing. This culture looks to social media to satisfy this problem, but all it does is give a false sense of friendship. Studies show that the overconsumption of social media can lead to depression. People really do have only a handful of friends in life, if that. I want to ask people who have 1,000s of “friends” on social media which of these people they know personally and who knows them personally. How does “liking” somebody else’s picture of their life really connect with them in a personal way? And the sad reality is that it doesn’t, which means that once that person stops posting things they essentially don’t exist anymore. It’s sad, really.

    I personally know exactly how you feel. My life seems to have been this way since I was a teenager and really hasn’t changed much since. There are days when I like it and days when honestly it sucks. I don’t know, good stuff Rachel.

    Will

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    1. Sorry it took so long for me to respond. Agree! I don’t have a thing to add. I really like the way you connected loneliness with the Christian walk. I hadn’t heard of it put that way before.

      Regarding your last paragraph, I’ve experienced this sort of solo-trudging for a while as well. Never completely alone but not completely in community. It’s strange. For certain spells I’ll have a permanent buddy, but life changes, and the friendship changes. I dunno either. The saying “it’s life” doesn’t seem to cut it here.

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