5 reasons to fight the desire to isolate
Saying “no” to the easy road
Introverts and extroverts alike have been thrust into spending more time with themselves than they ever imagined. As wave after wave of COVID continues to sweep over the country, many have needed to stay at home, work from home, and give up many social gatherings. As grateful as I am for technology that allows us to fellowship virtually, this is no substitute for being present with others.
Depression and isolation are a big part of my spiritual journey. I have a tendency to want to isolate (in unhealthy ways) and have been waging that war for a long time. As a pastor, a common struggle I see is a tendency for believers to isolate when there is sin, discouragement, suffering, or sorrow. They stop coming to small groups or the Sunday gathering. They stop reaching out or responding to text messages or calls. Often when this happens, there is residual shame accompanying the isolation. The thought often becomes, “Well, what will people think of me if I come back? It’s obvious I haven’t come in a while. They will probably judge me.” It’s amazing to me how creative the enemy’s lies become.
You might be in that place right now or you might be in the future. In either case, I want to plead with you to consider saying no to the easy road of isolation. It’s easy to stay in bed, ignore those messages, shut out the world, and self-medicate by yourself. But that easy road leads to destruction. I humbly encourage you to choose a higher road, a harder road. Choose to be with others. Choose to be vulnerable. It will be hard but worth it.
1. Because you were made for relationship
From the very first pages of the bible we learn that we were made for relationship with God (Gen. 1) and relationship with each other (Gen. 2). God said it was not good for us to be alone. Being made in God’s image, we are specifically wired (like God) to be relational beings. When we choose to isolate and shut others out, we are rebelling against our God-given design. It’s like using a toothbrush to hammer a nail. It’s not what we were made for. But when we live out our intended purpose, there is much joy to be had. Often, isolation reinforces feelings of purposelessness, loneliness, hopelessness, and depression. Everyone needs time alone but God has made us relational beings. Relationships require ongoing pursuit. Pursue those relationships. Don’t give up. Joy will come. Believe it.
2. Because sin thrives in isolation
The preacher of Ecclesiastes states: “Two are better than one … for if either falls, his companion can lift him up” (Ecc. 4:9-10). There is great danger in prolonged periods of isolation because when temptation comes, there is no companion to help us fight that sin. We have an adversary prowling around seeking to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8) and he often attacks when we are alone. This is why Paul says to “warn those who are idle” (1 Thess. 5:14). Isolating ourselves makes it harder to fight sin. Unless we confess to each other, encourage one another, and fight together, sin will thrive.
3. Because you need discipline
Men who share their struggles with lust often say, “It’s the worst when I’m alone, tired, and bored.” The warning of Proverbs 6:9-11 is very apt: How long will you stay in bed, you slacker? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest, and your poverty will come like a robber, your need, like a bandit. The young man dies for lack of discipline (Prov. 5:23). Discipline is especially needed in the hard moments, the weak moments. We need to learn the art of doing things when they are hard. As C.S. Lewis notes:
The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
My dear friend, if you find yourself sitting (or laying) at home, not wanting to go and be with God’s people, do your best to discipline your body into your control (1 Cor. 9:27). Train yourself for godliness for it is of value in every way. It holds promise for this life and the life to come (1 Tim. 4:7-9). Without discipline, we perish a thousand ways. Choosing to step out of your isolation will be hard (like going to the gym), but it will be worth it. Both in this life and the life to come.
4. Because you need others
Proverbs 18:1 says, “The one who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.” Although others can be a great joy of discouragement, the reality of our lives is that we are in desperate need of what God provides through others. You need to be spurred on to love and good deeds, which is why we resolve to not forsake gathering with other believers (Heb. 10:24-25). If you are feeling weak, those who are strong can help bear those burdens (Rom. 15:1). When David was downcast, he came to Jonathan and it says, “Jonathan came to David in Horesh and strengthened his hand in God” (1 Sam. 23:16). My brother or sister, you need other believers. You need to gather with them, hear their counsel, feel their comfort, and worship alongside them. God often strengthens our hands through the words and actions of others.
5. Because others need you
When God saved us, he sent his Spirit to dwell in us. That Holy Spirit empowers us for ministry and mission with spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit necessary for the local church to flourish. 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that the body has many parts and all are necessary. The eye cannot say to the hand that it is unnecessary. Neither can the head tell the foot it is less important (1 Cor. 12:14-21). In the same way we need others, they need us! There are particular gifts, passions, and talents that God has given each of us for his body to thrive. There are burdens we need to bear, love we need to express, encouragement to give, hearts to strengthen, and patience to be dispelled.
When we choose to isolate, we are not just hurting ourselves. We are hurting all those God has put around us to be his hands and feet to. So, when you are downcast, remember the exhortation from Hebrews 13:1, “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” Please, keep on and don’t give up. There are spiritual siblings that need the love God has granted you to give them. They need you.
But also… learn to be alone in light of the cross
Just because all these things are true, that does not mean that we are never to be alone. Jesus’ life was filled with moments where he would get away by himself for intentional times of prayer (Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). As much as sin thrives in isolation, so too can our godliness. Don’t forget those important times of solitude but don’t just be alone in those times. Redeem the isolation by meditating on the gospel, putting to death your sin, pursuing Christ’s presence, and preparing to go out and live in service and on mission for others. Meditate on the cross. Do so with others and by yourself. Redeem the time. As John Owen encourages us:
Let faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us. Look on him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him in that condition into thy heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to thy corruptions: do this daily. John Owen, The Mortification of Sin
Even our times of solitude can be filled with meaning. Even our times alone can be glorious and fruitful in light of the cross. Be filled by Christ and then go and fill others with the same comfort you have received.