Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
– Matthew 14:22-23 (NRSV)
When I was first interviewing for the position of head pastor, the PNC (Pastor Nominating Committee) asked me about my preferred work style. I explained that, although I enjoy working with other people, I’m an introvert at heart. I need time alone by myself to feel energized. I made it clear that my door is always open to visitors, but I’m not going to complain if I’m left alone. Thankfully, my answer did not deter the members of the PNC from extending the call to me.
Ever since I can remember, I have enjoyed solitude. Spending time by myself allows me to collect my thoughts. Some of my most creative output has come as the result of prolonged periods of solitude. Likewise, if I spend too much time around other people without any break, I find myself becoming anxious and irritable. My brain starts to feel scrambled. I become very quiet and withdrawn. Whereas you can hardly shut me up when I’m preaching, after extended periods of social interaction, you would hardly know I was there.
As you might imagine, this time at home, where I am around people 24/7, has been especially challenging. Even though I dearly love my wife and sons, after several extended days without any time to myself, I’m often thinking of any excuse I can find to leave the house. Sometimes tensions can run high. Like many couples, my wife is the opposite of me. She is an extrovert, which means she needs social interaction to feel energized.
It’s the perfect storm. I constantly want to be left alone, while she constantly wants to have conversation. Under normal circumstances, my time alone in the office is enough to allow me to focus on interacting with her and the boys when I’m home.
Unfortunately, our normal pattern is no longer in play. Similar to many couples with whom I have spoken, the last few weeks have produced some very raw conversations about unmet needs. As hard as those conversations can be, they are important because, when we avoid those conversations, we can unintentionally inflict deep wounds on each other.
In the scripture from Matthew, immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus retreats up into the mountains to be by himself. He had been interacting with thousands of people at once and he was spent. Jesus knew himself well enough to understand that he needed some time to himself. So, he turns to his disciples and says, “You guys good to be on your own for a little bit? Great, I need some time to recharge. I’ll see you later.” Jesus wasn’t shy about telling his disciples about what he needed. In fact, time and time again, Jesus goes out on a limb making sure everyone understands exactly what he’s doing and feeling.
Perhaps one of the most persistent issues I find when it comes to relationships, whether it be with partners, children, friends, or family, is that needs are not being properly communicated and understood. This communication deficit can lead to arguments, hurt feelings, and a loss of trust. This is particularly true in stressful times where we are in close and almost constant contact.
What is so critically important during this challenging time is that we follow Jesus’ example and talk through our needs. We need to make sure that the people who we care about understand our struggles and that we understand theirs. If we follow in Jesus’ footsteps and let the people who we love know how we are managing mentally, emotionally, and physically with the challenges of this pandemic, we will not only be able to cope better with our current circumstances, but we will come out on the other side of this with stronger and healthier relationships.