Personal space


by Michael E. Brooks

“When Jesus heard it, he departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it they followed him by foot from the cities” (Matthew 14:13 NKJV).

It is no secret that cultures in Asia and America are vastly different. I am often asked, “What is the greatest cultural shock which you have encountered?” My usual answer is, “The lack of privacy.”

Bangladesh is one of, if not the, most densely populated nation on earth. It’s land area is about the same as that of the state of Iowa. In that limited space lives 165,000,000 people — approximately half the population of the United states. There is literally nowhere one may go that is without people.

And consequently there is no concept of “personal space.” Everything is done in view of others.

Americans are relatively scarce in Bangladesh, therefore we stand out in any crowd or context. The people have great curiosity about us, and no shyness or reluctance when it comes to staring or pointing.

Have you ever sat alone in a car with 50 to 100 people crowded around you, touching the windows and sides of the car, staring at you for 20 or 30 minutes? It is an experience one would not normally have in the U.S. This is merely one of many such instances, all of which cause considerable uneasiness to one unaccustomed to them.

Most of us have a need for privacy, at least occasionally. Even Jesus sometimes sought solitude, either to teach small groups, or to meditate and pray. This in no way contradicted his earthly mission, “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Sometimes the desire for privacy may stem from less than pure motives. In these instances, secrecy is the true goal. But not all who seek to be alone do so for the sake of wrongdoing.

The psalmist records the words of God exhorting mankind, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Though stillness and solitude are not synonymous, it is difficult to meditate deeply when in the company of others.

Just as Jesus drew apart to pray (Mark 6:46), so we find a special opportunity for communion with God when alone.

Though few of us desire to be always in the midst of a large crowd of strangers, it is nevertheless true that total solitude is also uncomfortable, at least for very long.

Most humans want some degree of companionship, most of the time. The occasional hermit is recognized as abnormal, socially unbalanced.

But those with a genuine relationship with God realize that they are never truly alone. The company of other humans may be denied them for a time, but there is always One who is with them.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Having just enough, but not too much, company is a delicate balance, hard if not impossible to always achieve. But reliance upon God to protect us from the crowd while always providing fellowship is the correct solution.

“If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31).

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