“Nietzsche responded, ‘At times I think I’m the most alone man in existence. It has nothing to do with the presence of others – in fact, I hate others who rob me of my solitude and yet do not truly offer me company.’
“What do you mean, Friedrich? How do they not offer you company?”
“By not holding dear the things I hold dear! Sometimes I gaze so far into life that I suddenly look around and see that no one has accompanied me.” When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom
When I read this portion as I was flying back from Washington, D.C. in early October I immediately agreed with the thought that few people hold dear what I hold dear. And of course I was wrong and Nietzsche was wrong. He at least had an excuse for being wrong – he had no experience of life-changing faith. I was wrong because I reverted to the way the world thinks. I am grateful to the writer for the statement that has provoked my thinking and has helped me get a clearer focus on those things that are most important in my life.
What makes Nietzsche’s statement wrong for me? First of all, it is wrong because my experience of solitude equips me to discover companions who hold dear what I hold dear. Henri Nouwen states well the necessity of our lives being fulfilled in this way in his book Reaching Out:
“There is much mental suffering in our world. But some of it is suffering for the wrong reason because it is born out of the false expectation that we are called to take each other’s loneliness away. When our loneliness drives us away from ourselves into the arms of companions in life, we are, in fact, driving ourselves into excruciating relationships, tiring friendships and suffocating embraces. Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude.”
Jesus is an example of how we find this different kind of solitude: “He arose a great while before day and went out into a solitary place and there prayed.” We are created for a relationship with the Father who meets the deep heart longings. When these heart longings are met in an experience of God’s love then we are able to welcome others into our lives in deep ways.
Secondly, the statement is not true for me because I am not alone in the things I hold dear. I have companions who hold dear those things that are most important to me. Others have initiated with me and I have learned to respond to them and to initiate with others. What are the things that we hold dear? My friend, Steve Savelich, has a great way of defining the things that are primary in our lives. He speaks of the difference between “compass points” and “landmarks”. The compass points do not change and when we line our lives up with those points we are always aiming in the right direction. The landmarks are helpful as they give us time with companions and provide traction to get us moving in a relationship, but they only help as they move us toward the compass points.
Some compass points in my life are to love God with all my heart; to love my neighbor as myself; to be conformed to the image of Christ; to love and submit to brothers and sisters; to care about the things in this world that Jesus cares about, etc. Landmarks are things like: being part of a small group; mentoring younger people; being involved in our local church; supporting people and projects in Africa, etc. These are activities and relationships that give me the opportunity to aim for the compass points – to pursue the purposes of my life that are God given.
Thirdly, we all need men and women who share the compass points in our lives and who walk with us in the landmarks as well. There is a special connection to these companions. C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves writes about these friends.
“Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”
I have partnerships in several areas of common interest. Kay walks with me in most of the important and less important aspects of my life. I have people who partner in love and concern for Africans. I am journeying with others in our local church. I am part of a team of people who reach out to kids in Oregon. I have friends with whom we care about racial reconciliation in our part of the world.
What the above paragraph illustrates is the death of the false idea that I held for years – the idea that some one person would be partner with me in all the things I care about. It takes the Body of Christ to connect me to people who nurture and encourage all the things God lays on my heart. No one person shares all but I am not alone in anything.
I love the flow of this. I have hearts desires and dreams and needs in my life that are only met by Jesus. As those are being met I am then able to become one with all those who hold dear those things Jesus wants each of us to value. Then I get the added blessing of companions who walk with me in the specifics of the work I do each day. All of this provides “company” for me.
The result of these fulfilled relationships is that I can be with anyone and not think they are stealing my solitude. I can care for them and give to them out of a full heart knowing that I am serving in obedience to Jesus Christ. And I can learn from them as the love of Christ rebounds from them into my life.