iso·la·tion noun\ˌī-sə-ˈlā-shən alsoˌi-\
: the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others : the condition of being isolated
: the act of separating something from other things : the act of isolating something
Even the word itself carries a certain weight, doesn’t it?
The weight of our past experiences, our present circumstances…all affect our relationship to this word. Some people might be terrified by the concept of isolation. Some find comfort and safety in it. An inevitable lifetime of complex events and repressed pain will drive all of us in one direction or the other…whether we know it or not. This word has been on my heart lately as I’ve seen both the beneficial and destructive sides of it’s powerful effect on our lives.
To give you a little perspective on my relationship with isolation, I’m a “pleaser” or a “responder.” (If you’ve ever gone through the studies on love styles or life languages, you’ll know more of what I mean.) In a nutshell, I don’t enjoy being isolated from relationship with people. I naturally desire connection, approval, happiness, and comfort with the people around me. If someone is upset with me, I hate it. If I have intimate relationship with someone and they begin to feel distant, I hate it. (If you don’t believe me, you can ask my girlfriend, Melanie!)
However, I spend so much time interacting with people, I absolutely LOVE my alone time. When I lived in Nashville, I’d drive home to PA (instead of fly) to save money. Thirteen hours in a car by myself. People would always ask how the heck I did it… “That sounds terrible! Don’t you get insanely bored??” But the thing was, I looked forward to these drives. I had zero obligations or to-do lists. I’d spend the whole day alone watching the sun rise and set, singing, praying, and thinking. Some of the most powerful times in my life happened while trying to see Rt.81 through tears of vulnerable prayer and worship. All thanks to some time of isolation in that two-door Chevy Cavalier.
But if isolation can be both a good thing and a bad thing, that means there has to be a healthy way to operate and an unhealthy way. If we ignore it, our sinful “nature+nurture” will absolutely sweep us away into an unhealthy operation…whether we gravitate toward too much isolation or we’re terrified of it.
So let’s talk about how the Bible encourages healthy isolation.
We were created for relationship with God. Not just as acquaintances, but intimately. In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us how to pray…and ironically He recommends some isolation. Now He was speaking contextually to the “religious” behaviors of doing certain things intentionally for others to see. People would give to the poor and pray publicly so that everyone would see their “good deeds” and give them praise. Is it genuine love or intimacy if you’re only doing something to receive praise in the end? Nope. Jesus shows that prayer and intimacy with the Father is better done in private to make sure you aren’t doing it for your own glory.
5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.6But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6 NLT)
Even more than verbal instruction, Jesus taught us about healthy isolation and prayer through his actions.
“15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16 NIV)
“35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35 NIV)
Now this doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t pray with others. There is plenty of Scripture to support prayer in numbers… (19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” -Matthew 18:19-20 NLT)
But either way, we can agree that Jesus does teach the value of solitude and prayer. The key factor in that is prayer…communication and relation to God in those moments of seclusion. So healthy isolation isn’t actually isolation at all...it’s actually just a break from interaction with people so that we can find intimacy with the Father.
Just practically speaking, with all the distractions of our lives…people, social media, technology…we absolutely NEED time of healthy seclusion. Sometimes you need to step back so you can get your emotions/flesh under control. From personal experience, I’ve found that some of the most focused and powerful times of processing and prayer have been in solitude. Whether it be in my car or in my knees in my bedroom, these are the places that I feel His presence the most. This is where I find the most rest. I can’t survive healthily without these times to worship, process, recharge, and refocus.
The beauty of the veil being torn when Jesus died is that we can now have direct access to God whenever we want. No longer do we need a priest/religious leader to act as our phone operator. We don’t need to be “ceremonially clean.” We can come to Him in our most raw and vulnerable words or thoughts. How awesome is that??
However, when I’m struggling and seclude myself without prayer, it ends up being extensive over-analyzation, recycled emotions, and anxiety. So lets chat about some of the dangers of isolation…
This is huge. I really need you to focus with me for a minute because this is where the Enemy has the ability to absolutely tear your life apart. I’ve seen it happen in my life and I see it happen in the lives of people I love…and it breaks my heart.
See, the Enemy hunts like a lion. He prowls in the dark…stays low where you can’t see him. Then in a moment of weakness, he attacks. Amidst the fear and confusion, he drives you away from the herd. He twists and manipulates you toward selfishness, making you believe that you can do it better on your own. That you have to do it on your own. “You don’t need the herd…they are imperfect and have hurt you before. Look out for yourself. Life is better in YOUR control, so do it on your own.” Lies, pain, bitterness, complacency, self-justification, and hopelessness. As you run and tire, it’s there that he easily sinks his teeth into the back of your neck.
I realize this is an animalistic and bloody analogy, but it’s actually quite accurate. “Ok, Brooke. I get your adorable analogy…but I’m not a freakin gazelle. What does that process actually look like?” Well I’m glad you asked! Unhealthy isolation is any action that pulls you away from relationship and ISN’T fueled by love. If you are cutting somebody off or simply ignoring communication because of resentment or bitterness…that’s unhealthy. If you are medicating deeper issues with the “safety” of seclusion, that’s unhealthy.
You will inevitably struggle and be hurt in any relationship, community, family, or church you place yourself in. We are all imperfect people. The process of growth and sanctification means sometimes we fail by acting out of our past hurts and weaknesses. But regardless of the difficulty, we were designed to function and survivebest through relationship and growth together. There will be unhealthy moments, but if we allow the Enemy to isolate and divide us, unhealthy can turn into death. Maybe not literal death…but it could be. Maybe it’s just death of relationships. Death of family. Death of hope. Death of fruit in our lives. Death of joy. Death of peace. Death of your dreams or your future.
Maybe some of this is striking a chord in your heart. Maybe you’re thinking, “Whoa…that’s totally what I’m going through.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Well that’s not me…sure, I’ve lost most relationships in my life, but they are the problem. I didn’t need them anyway and can do life better on my own.” In an honest moment, deep down you feel the sharp teeth tug your flesh from bone. The pain is real. You’re merely doing your best by coping and medicating in any way you can. Alcohol, weed, (any drug), music, surface level attention, meaningless sex/porn, distractions.
The beauty of Jesus is that He makes all things new. He can do ALL things. He can restore relationships. He can rewire your brain chemistry. Even if you’ve already been devoured and you feel like merely bones left. God can wrap new muscles and tendons around a whole army of dry bones, then breathe life back into them (Ezekiel 37) …He can absolutely make YOU new again. All it takes is a repentant heart that asks Him to do it…and He will. You wouldn’t believe the life transformation that I’ve seen in people and experienced for myself.
So make the decision to take a stand against unhealthy isolation and press into healthy relationship. We were designed for intimacy, relationship, and community through the ability of Jesus to heal and restore. It may take some serious humility, some genuine apology, some patience for peoples’ weaknesses, some struggles, and some effort. It will most definitely require the discomfort of change. On the other side is life abundant…what’s BEST for you. So much better than the life you lead right now. It’s there that you will thrive and grow as you walk in your purpose. Nobody wants to be blind, but if you isolate into darkness or live with your eyes closed, it has the exact same effect. The light may hurt your eyes at first, but color and beauty is so worth it.
As Three Days Grace once growled, “It’s not too late…It’s never too late.”