Some people are staunchly independent. Not just in their desire to accomplish things without anyone’s help, but with respect to their aversion to spending time with other people. These are the people who don’t see much value in others. They believe one of two things: either others are inferior to them, or that they are inferior (worthless) to others. They have few, if any, meaningful relationships with other people, and only connect with others when they absolutely need to (or have to). Further, they have a tendency to withdraw and isolate themselves – whether out of fear or indifference. They are loners.
The second group of people is almost the polar opposite from the loner. They are so consumed by fitting in, by being accepted by others, that they overly subject themselves to the thoughts and opinions of those around them. They are worried about their appearance, about whether their ideas will be valued, and will at times compromise their beliefs and actions to feel acceptance. Many of these types of people do not enjoy spending time alone – mostly because they find their identity in those with whom they associate. These people often have opinions, but opt to keep them to themselves for fear they will create conflict, which could ultimately lead to a relational rift. They are often peacekeepers, and desperately want to be liked by everybody. If they believe someone has a negative opinion of them, it will gnaw at them incessantly. They are leaners.
The third type of individual may slightly overlap into the loner or leaner category, but mostly they spend their lives absorbing experiences like a sponge. They enjoy spending time with others, but also embrace the opportunities for reflection and devotion that is allowed by time spent alone. Where the loner (superior/ inferior) or leaner (smothering, needy) can be a “life-sucker,” this type of person breathes life into others. They use the wisdom they have gleaned from others along the way to strengthen their connection to those around them. They are not self-centered, but are others-centered. They never allow an experience to be wasted. They are joyful. Others who spend time with them walk away refreshed and energized. They are life-givers.
Are there seasons in life when we may be a loner or a leaner? Sure. The difference is that the life-giver is resilient. He takes his desert experiences to learn from them and bless others, rather than using it as an excuse to “be mad at God” or bear a grudge, or as a justification for sin.
John Ortberg once wrote that there are two types of people: those who are living, and those who are waiting to live. For the loner, living may mean wandering outside your comfort zone to surround yourself with others who can breathe life into you. For the leaner, living may mean you need to spend time talking with God, finding your identity in Him rather than in those around you. Perhaps you have become less concerned with the Creator, and more concerned with His creation.
We all aspire to be life-givers. In order to do so, we must admit our weakness, and seek to fill our lives with the only thing that truly satisfies: Jesus Christ. He was – and is – the ultimate Life-Giver. Through him, we can offer that same life, and hope, to others we see each day.