The Perils of Going it Alone
Or, Some Wisdom from the Desert
In drawing close to God, we are not made to go it alone. And we can’t truly understand the Scriptures outside of community.
We can’t seek the presence of God while ignoring the presence of others.
We can’t seek intimacy with God through our independence alone. We must be open to getting help from others.
This is illustrated in a short saying from the early desert fathers:
It was said about an old man that he endured seventy weeks of fasting, eating only once a week. He asked God about certain words in the Holy Scriptures, but God did not answer him.
Then he said to himself: Look, I have put in this much effort, but I haven’t made any progress. So now I will go to see my brother, and ask him.
And when he had gone out, closed the door and started off, an angel of the Lord was sent to him, and said: “Seventy weeks of fasting have not brought you near to God. But now that you are humbled enough to go to your brother, I have been sent to you to reveal the meaning of the words.”
Then the angel explained the meaning that the old man was seeking, and went away.
(from Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the desert fathers ~ trans. by Yushi Nomura)
Through personal agency and independence—witnessed through intense fasting—this monk sought God’s presence and an understanding of God’s word.
But when the monk opened himself to receiving help from others, made himself vulnerable to others through intimacy, then his prayers were answered, then he was brought near to God.
While our agency and independence are good, let us not use them alone in seeking God’s presence. We were made for intimacy and interdependence with God and others.