These days, it seems that is is becoming increasingly vogue to label one’s self an “introvert.” Maybe this is thanks to the way in which books like Susan Cain’s Quiet have both normalized and popularized the term. Or perhaps its because there really are an increasing number of people who find time alone and away from the always-on connectedness of our culture life-giving. Or it could be that being an introvert just sounds better than being a misanthrope. Who knows?
In any case, I wonder whether or not the general shift toward introversion in our culture makes the story of Jesus, alone and fasting for forty days in the wilderness, any more approachable or attractive?
As any good introvert will tell you, though, there is a difference between taking a break from relationships in order to regain emotional energy and the kind of isolation that would certainly have been a part of Jesus’ sojourn. Even introverts get lonely, sometimes. And as the story of Jesus shows, there are more dangers in a wilderness experience than simple lack of food or drink. Temptations rise like so many spiritual enemies when one begins to feel cut-off from the community. Just ask any of the disproportionate number of alcoholics and addicts that live in the profoundly rural places of the world.
And so the tempter’s appearance is no surprise. Moreover, I wonder if the principal temptation that Satan offers is rather more subtle than stones-into-bread or angelic rescue or worldly power. Maybe the first temptation of Christ simply companionship. Was Jesus lonely? Is it possible that he was even glad to see Satan?
I’m not sure we’ll ever know.
What I do know, though, is that companionship in the midst of seeming isolation is an important aspect of the story of Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness. Even if we suspend our wonders about Jesus and his loneliness, we can understand his isolation as being potentially about helping us to combat our own feelings of disconnect. Jesus is in the wilderness waiting. Waiting to comfort us when we find ourselves in that same wilderness.