Living alone/ with others

July 24, 2013 | Viewpoints
Melissa Miller |

Something about the placement of the living room furniture caught my attention. With its cozy circle of a comfy couch and chairs, it subtly signaled invitation and welcome. On a whim I asked my African-Canadian host, “Did you grow up in a village?” A native of Zimbabwe, she replied that she had, and then told me of her childhood experience waking in the morning, leaving her family’s hut and joining others around the communal fire to greet the day.

What a great idea, I thought, as an extrovert who draws life energy from being with others. The need for community, though, transcends personality differences. We all need a village to help us greet the day and face the tasks we are given to do. At the end of the day, we need companions to review our experiences, to celebrate our successes and to sympathize with our struggles. We need someone’s hand to hold as we give thanks for our daily bread, and as we prayerfully seek God’s guidance on our path.

The wisdom teaching of the Bible affirms such needs. In Ecclesiastes 3, the preacher proclaims the value of friendship that provides aid, warmth and protection (v 9-12), and then concludes by reminding us “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” There is strength in such companionship. In the 4th century, Basil the Great highlighted another dimension of community when he asked, “If you live alone, whose feet will you wash?”

Of course, there are plenty of ways to “wash feet” beyond service to the people within our households. And there are many ways to share aid, warmth and protection, whether we live alone or with others. I have tremendous respect for people I’ve known who live alone and who navigate life with good cheer and confidence. And I know many people who crave a quiet day or silent household because their lives are full of noisy children, an unending to-do list of family obligations, or a metaphorical treadmill that keeps running ever faster.

I am not such a person though. When I live alone (which happens for weeks at a time when my husband travels), I become despondent and drained of energy. I need a companion at the beginning and end of the day. I need someone to touch and to serve. My cat isn’t much of a conversationalist and chocolate chip cookies can only fill so much of the void.

Likely there’s a combination of personality and circumstantial factors that shape our responses to solitude. In my case, my childhood certainly set up some kind of expectations. Those years were lived as the middle of eight children in a lively loud household. University residence was a blast, for I could always find a conversation partner in the hallways and adjoining rooms. Through 37 years of marriage, my husband and I have often house-shared, arrangements that have blessed us with long-lasting deep friendships. When given a choice, I typically choose to be with others rather than to be alone, even as I recognize the value of solitude and respect the quiet inner-focused energy of introverts.

Maybe the extroverts have a special task in our communities—that of inviting people into relationship and conversation and connection. Maybe introverts teach us about deep listening for God in the quiet solitary places of life. Wherever we find ourselves, I hope the church can be our village, whether we crave companionship or solitude, whether we live alone or with many others, whether we are happy or unhappy with our living arrangements. In an increasingly fragmented world, the church can be a place of belonging and friendship.

Melissa Miller ( lives in Winnipeg. She is wrapped in the family ties of daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and pastor.

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