A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34 ESV)
I must be missing something. This command is repeated 13 times in the New Testament. God doesn’t leave us to wonder what this means, so He provides us with 36 different “one another” commands. You can find an easy to read list here.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)
This is just one example. We love one another by forgiving one another. I think there are several assumptions here. The first is that we are living in relationship with other people. We are in some sort of community together. The second is that we are imperfect people and our sins in that community will result in hurt for others. The third is that the only way we’ll be able to remain in community is by forgiving the sins of others. Our example of all of this is Jesus.
So, here is the statement from The Way of the Heart that best summarizes for me what Nouwen has been saying in the section on solitude:
In a world that victimizes us by its compulsions, we are called to solitude where we can struggle against our anger and greed and let our new self be born in the loving encounter with Jesus Christ. It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in brokenness with all of humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need. — The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen
It is very tempting to see solitude as the solution to all my problems. I really can’t trust myself to the community I’m a part of, so I go away. I can’t hurt anyone, although my leaving may hurt those whom I have relationship with. No one can hurt me, because I’m alone. Nouwen seems to be arguing that only in a total focus on my vertical relationship with God can I achieve the spiritual maturity required to effectively minster to others.
I’m certainly not denying the need for times of solitude. There are times when I need to wrestle with God. However, the most productive times of wrestling generally are the results of my struggles in attempting to live out “love one another”. During my times of solitude, I am learning to listen for God’s voice. I’m also learning to hear God’s voice speaking through the people I do life with. Very slowly I’m learning to appreciate the people who disagree with me and who don’t accept my bad behavior. I won’t give up on solitude and will continue to encourage it for others. I’m also going to seek deeper community as a witness to the world around me.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)