The yearning to attach and connect, to love and be loved, is the fiercest longing of the soul. Our need for community with people and the God who made us is to the human spirit what food and air and water are to the human body. That need will not go away even in the face of all the weirdness. It marks us from the nursery to the convalescent home. An infant lifts up her face hopefully, she holds out two stubby little arms in her desire to be held, she beams a smile of delight when she is picked up and rocked—what heart can keep from melting?
At the other end of the spectrum, the widowed father of a man I know falls in love with a woman at his church. He proposes, she accepts. They walk down the aisle. He is eighty-four, a retired doctor; she is eighty-one, a retired missionary. It is her first marriage. She kissed dating good-bye during the Truman administration. You would think she might have given up on the whole marriage deal by now; yet she finds not only Mr. Right, but Dr. Right. They throw off the age curve of the Newly Married class by six decades.
As frustrating as people can be, it’s hard to find a good substitute. A friend of mine was ordering breakfast during a recent trip in the South. He saw grits on the menu, and being a Dutchman who spent most of his life in Michigan, he had never been very clear on the nature of this item. So he asked the waitress, “What exactly is a grit?”
Her response was a classic. “Honey,” she said (in the South, waitresses are required by law to address all customers as “honey”), “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.”
Grits don’t exist in isolation. No grit is an island, entire unto itself. Every grit is a part of the mainland, a piece of the whole. You can’t order a single grit. They’re a package deal.
“Call it a clan, call it a tribe, call it a network, call it a family,” says Jane Howard. “Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” It is not good for man to be alone. Dallas Willard says, “The natural condition of life for human beings is reciprocal rootedness in others.” Honey, you don’t come by yourself.
Edward Hallowell, a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, speaks of the basic human need for community. He uses the term connection: the sense of being part of something that matters, something larger than ourselves. We need face-to-face interactions; we need to be seen and known and served and do these same things for others. We need to bind ourselves to each other with promises of love and loyalty made and kept. These connections involve other people, of course (and especially God); but Hallowell observes that people draw life even from connecting to pets, to music, or to nature.
There is a reason for this. Neil Plantinga notes that the Hebrew prophets had a word for just this kind of connectedness of all things: shalom—“the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” Try to imagine, the old prophets told people then, and tell us still, what such a state of affairs would look like.
In a world where shalom prevailed, all marriages would be healthy and all children would be safe. Those who have too much would give to those who have too little. Israeli and Palestinian children would play together on the West Bank; their parents would build homes for one another. In offices and corporate boardrooms, executives would secretly scheme to help their colleagues succeed; they would compliment them behind their backs. Tabloids would be filled with accounts of courage and moral beauty. Talk shows would feature mothers and daughters who love each other deeply, wives who give birth to their husbands’ children, and men who secretly enjoy dressing as men.
Ortberg, J. (2009). Everybody’s normal till you get to know them. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.