Please hear what I'm saying (and what I'm not saying). What I am saying is that no one should be an autonomous person, separated and isolated from others. I am not saying that humans must always be around others, or that those who like to have time alone are living lives that are not pleasing to God. Not at all.
We need community, but we also need solitude.
Luke 5:16 says, "But Jesus would often withdraw to desolate places to pray (ESV)."
Why does he do this? Obviously if the Son of God thought it necessary to spend time in solitude, so should we! There must be some fundamental reason why we need both community and solitude. But what is it?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote a great little book called Life Together which talks about Christian community. In it, he points out that people often try to deal with their feelings of loneliness and insecurity by trying to find a "cure" in the community of others. Bonhoeffer observes that these people "are generally disappointed." Such a person, he says, "is not really seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time." Ironically, this leads to more loneliness and kills a community.
Bonhoeffer goes on to say, "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community."
We need to be able to separate ourselves for a season from the community so that our identity comes from God and God alone. If we look for some deep soul "cure" in others, we will be disappointed. All humans are fallen. We all have our jagged edges, personality flaws, and shortcomings. They cannot cure our need for love and relationship; only God can. That is why we must balance community with solitude.
Of course, we only go into times of solitude so that we can return to the community. Like a person who finally breaks a long fast, when we return to the community we receive the gift with a profound appreciation and thanksgiving.
Solitude and community... it's really a balance isn't it? Somewhat paradoxical. The tension between the two poles is a good thing. As Dr. "Umfundisi" Jim Lo says, "A holy life is a balanced life." And there in the balance between solitude and community is where we should strive to be.