Isolation can look like a hundred different things:
A child left out
An elderly widow with no driver’s license, dependent on social security, a busy family
Turning away from our spouse when we’re angry, rather than toward
Eating a quart of ice cream with a spoon and ignoring your ringing phone
Standing in the center of a crowd with nothing to say and no one to talk to
We can take out our phones to numb ourselves from the activity of the world around us, avoid invitations because it’s just so much work to be out where the people live, or push people away with boiling-over emotions we can’t even begin to understand ourselves.
Isolation isn’t any one action, one refusal, or one moment, which makes it hard to understand and hard to overcome. With isolation we can know we feel off, not quite right, a little sad, then a lot sad, or not sad at all, a little irritable, or a lot angry. It can affect our ability to focus and our sleep, and it actually changes our brain function and heightens our risk for more than a few major health diagnoses.
What’s all the fuss? Isn’t a little alone time good?
As a mother of four, a youth leader to a hundred, and a writer to thousands, I like some alone time. We all need some alone time, but alone time with a book, a nice long walk, or a favorite tv show is very different from the ongoing condition of withdrawal, checking out, left alone, whether self-imposed, life imposed, or imposed by others.
Checking out can be okay for a moment. Our psychological systems are built to protect us and keep us from being overwhelmed by all the feelings. You can feel the difference between needed alone time and isolation because isolation has an edge to it which is painful.
God created us not because He needs us, but because He wants us. We are never truly alone, even when it’s just me, myself, and I. Even in our me-ness, we were created for the companionship of the Maker.
Connection is the inverse of isolation.
Connection is healing; it brings life where there is blah.
God provides this connection from Himself and through people.
God shapes connection intentionally not through happiness, peace, good ideas, or stand out experiences. These are all good things and can make us feel connected.
the real shape of connection is love.
Vague connection and relationship in our world aren’t cutting it. They don’t give us what we need. Waving at our neighbor as we walk into our house is connection, but without love, it’s not really anything. Showing up for family gatherings, eating Mom’s super special casserole, and handing out presents on Christmas and birthdays are nice, but without love, it doesn’t fill us up. We end up kind of flat, kind of empty.
The famous love passage reminds us,
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
I gain nothing.
We can’t force anyone else in our life to pour on the love so we feel better, so we become less isolated. We can turn to God. We can cry out to Him.
We can tell this Maker that we don’t really care for how hard it is to connect with people and how complicated relationships are.
We can join a group at a church or a class in our town and we can meet people and take the risk of rejection to get to the real connection, to find the real shape of connection that includes love.
We can text someone.
We can ask what food someone likes in a nice, awkward way, to start a conversation.
We can work past the weird of people to get to the love.
We can be that person who braves a random event we saw on Facebook so that we walk into a situation we don’t really care for, but meet people who just may hold a freakish amount of love, just waiting for the taking.
We can take the rejection, once, twice, three times, 400 times, because the Maker never rejects us. The Savior never turns away, but always, always turns toward us.
Instead of the isolation of nothing, I gain something.
I gain brave love.
Heidi asked the question in the middle of the blog “How alone do I feel?” and I sat here alone in my basement at my computer thinking about it. We can be surrounded by people and relationships, watching our friend and follower count go up as the likes come in, and still feel alone. At the same time, we can sit in the middle of the cafeteria, classroom, office or sanctuary, and look around at the myriad of people, even some we still have a connection to and still feel alone. We can be alone in our room, alone with our thoughts, alone. Isolation is one of the greatest tools of the devil, and it’s the tool he used in the garden to isolate Eve and Adam from God and from each other. It’s the tool he uses on us. It’s the tool he tried to use on Jesus, but failed in his attempt. The Gospels record Jesus’ words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus takes on the Sin of the world, everything which would seek to separate God from His people, and isolate us. In that moment, He knows our isolation and pain. He recognizes who we are and what we endure. In this moment, we have a savior who comes to us in our isolation to make sure we are never alone. In our lonely moments, and in every moment, we have Jesus, who gives us His life full of love.