Copyright April 1, 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton
No, this is not an April Fool’s Day joke.
Isolation is one of the first Red Flag symptoms of a deadly spiritual infection, inflicted generally by a subtle self-deception, and justified by any of a million rationalizations. When we are wounded by an offense, when we feel angry, hurt, depressed, anxious, worried, cynical because of a negative past experience, and we fail to deal with the cause of that emotional discomfort, we ultimately isolate ourselves, like a wounded animal whose instinct is to find a hiding place in the woods or in a cave, lick its wounds, and perhaps die there completely alone. The animal lives in a dog-eat-dog world of fear, hiding necessarily from opportunistic predators, defenseless in its weakened condition. So also do human beings often perceive this life.
The trouble is, you and I were created to be the solution to the fears from which others hide – not to fall prey to them. And we can only give away that miracle which we ourselves have experienced. So if you have found yourself isolating – from family, from friends, from responsibility, from society in general, or just from certain people whom you fear will hurt you again – let’s re-dig the Well named Courage, and take a look at God’s solution to the pain that brought you here.
A year or so ago, I was in the parking lot at a local Wal-Mart, where I saw a small, black Lab-mix dog with no collar. He seemed absolutely terrified; he looked ragged and thin. I looked and saw a young man, with a to-go box of food. The young man was trying to coax the dog toward his car with the food, but the dog would not approach. The young man put the food down, backed away, and continued to speak to the dog in a very gentle voice. The dog would timidly approach the food, keeping a wary eye on the young man, but as the young man kept slowly pulling the food closer toward the car, the dog would become skittish again.
I had to head home before I could observe the outcome of this patient young man’s attempt to rescue the poor creature; but I saw enough to get God’s message from this living parable. This is how we often treat God, or those whom He sends to us, when we have tried to make it on our own so long that we are spiritually and emotionally weak and starving, lost and confused. We withdrew out of fear of rejection or abuse; but we end up rejecting the very answers to our most desperate prayers.
As a child, I experienced a multitude of traumas which led me to isolate. I was lonely, had very few friends – and a couple of school years in elementary school, felt that I had none. I was constantly terrified of bullies at school, and the stress of many dysfunctional family dynamics at
home. Home was better because, at least there, I had some love mixed in with the “dysfunctionality.” But even at home, I tended to hole up in my room with a book to avoid the pain of a life that made no sense to me. The journey to wholeness from that trauma will be much of the fodder for this blog. But how many of you can relate? The tragedy was that I was in such pain that even the most well-meaning of remarks intended to help usually came across as rejection, harsh judgment, or abuse. So my walls of isolation got thicker and thicker.
But suppose the stray dog chooses to trust – just a little bit – and finds what he’s been searching for all his life? Love, security, safety, peace and quiet, satisfaction of every legitimate need, beyond his wildest dreams… He longs for this miracle, but is afraid of another cruel trick. There have been so many people to hurt him in the past, so many dog packs which chased him away, selfishly guarding their own food, snarling at the stranger on their turf. The fear eventually wins out over the hope of a new experience, and ultimately, his isolation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. He dies under an old, abandoned car in a junk yard, hungry, exhausted, sick, cold, lonely, afraid, licking his wounds with no one to bandage them.
God knew that we could not trust, once we had caved in to the First Deception – those ancient words, “Indeed, hath God said…?” (Gen. 3:1-21) So from the beginning, knowing the deadly result of being infected with the disease called Sin, He showed us how serious He was about our restoration to all for which we had been designed, by offering Someone Else willing to die so that we could live. He Himself became the One to take the brunt of the mocks, the jeers, the abuse, the betrayal, the rejection, the abandonment by those who claimed to be loyal. He Himself took the injustice of slander, brutal beating, cruel torture, of death itself, which we had feared. And then He showed us the greatest possible hope imaginable: He rose from the dead, with over 500 eye witnesses, conquering the very thing to which He had submitted Himself out of love for us. Trust in the wise plan of the Eternal Father, Who had equipped Him to live within two worlds, enabled Jesus to say, “No one takes My life from Me. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again.” (Jn. 10:18) He conquered that deadly fear of being a “victim” by being so motivated by love and trust in the Only One Who has never failed at anything, that He could confidently put up with temporary suffering, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that the greatest victory in history would result. And He made that victory available to us.
So if our confidence is in ourselves alone, we will die alone. If our confidence is in the limitations and weaknesses of human beings, our lives will be a Russian Roulette of sometimes trusting people with good results, while still often being deeply hurt and becoming defensive to protect ourselves. But if our confidence is in a divine relationship alone, we will be equipped daily, as Christ was, with that one-step-at-a-time wisdom we need to be confident in God’s long-range plan, regardless of what little things may go wrong along the way, just because others are choosing other gods. And as we humble ourselves, to trust God to work in others who also make the choice of faith, we will learn to look together at the Author of the love and grace we each need to encourage one another on that journey.
So I will share more later on the breakthrough understanding I recently experienced of what the Bible means when it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding,” and how that applies to our ability to break free from the slavery of isolation.
But for now, ask yourself where and how you are most tempted to isolate. What do you fear and why? Whom do you fear, and when did that relationship first begin to seem to need higher walls to you? How did that fear first enter in? And as Dr. Phil, says, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”