`WHO needs people?'' I heard a woman say in a fit of exasperation. In fact, I've sometimes felt that way myself. So why not drop out of the tussle with society and its problems and opinions? While it's true that we sometimes do need to take time out to be alone with God, in the long run we can't shut out society and -- when you come right down to it -- we wouldn't want to. We want satisfying relationships. If relationships are disturbing, we need to improve them, not run away from them.
Most of us are alone part of the time and with people part of the time. The proportions vary from individual to individual, of course. But shunning interactions with others can be just as selfish as demanding constant companionship. You might say we can get to be too comfortable with our own company!
Because I am in a community where many people live alone, I began to see the need for balance between solitude and society in other people before I recognized it as something I needed to adjust in myself. Since I had been living alone I had come to enjoy having the freedom to do anything I pleased at my own pace. Gradually it became easier and easier to be self-centered -- to indulge myself. When I recognized what that attitude of isolation was doing to others, though, I saw that I myself needed to reach out more.
Such reaching out to humanity is essential to our own spiritual progress. Christ Jesus answered the lawyer who asked, ``Master, which is the great commandment in the law?'' by citing the commandment ``Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.'' But he didn't stop there. He went on to say, ``And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.''
We need to develop a close companionship with God, and this certainly needs to come first in our lives. Being close to God is being close to Love, because God is Love. When we feel God's love, however, we are inevitably compelled to obey the second commandment, as well, and express that love to others. As we yearn to know God, that same divine Love does hear us. This yearning prayer fills us with a desire to share our special joys. We find that while we still enjoy being alone in prayer, we also enjoy being with others, for their companionship enables us to express the love that we have been learning.
``Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love,'' writes Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. And she continues, ``It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it.''
Our thinking can become unselfish even while we are alone. We may, for example, need to spend time alone while we are praying for solutions to world problems. Such solitude reaches out with love and is unselfish; it paves the way for other times when we express love by being with people. I found this true in my own situation. As my thought opened to divine Love, opportunities for friendship appeared, and they enriched my life in unexpected ways.
Christ Jesus spent much time alone in prayer. He was alone in the wilderness before he chose his disciples. He was alone in the garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion and in the tomb before his resurrection. But he was never a recluse. His prayerful solitude always supported his active example to mankind.
Being alone can be a time of preparation for being with people. But it is in our interchanges with others that we show we've really learned the lessons of divine Love that we've been prayerfully studying during our times of solitude.