“A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment. A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart. “
Proverbs 18:1-2 NKJV
I recently read an excellent article by a church planter in NYC. But something very important struck me that had very little to do with the main point of the article. She said this: Jesus didn’t isolate; He had intentional solitude. Isolation is self-protection from society, whereas solitude is preparation for society. We have to know the difference.
I have found the difference between the two to be fuzzy at times in my years of ministry. But distinguishing between the two is vitally important to my personal, mental and spiritual health.
Early on in our marriage, a pastor’s wife told me that an older pastor and his wife sat her down and explained to her that she should not look for friends in her own church. This was a wide spread coaching at the time to young pastors and wives in our denominational circle (disclaimer – we were not part of the EFCA at that time).
This mindset was spread by older ministers who had been so wounded by people in their own churches that they wanted to protect us younger folks from the same pain. She was trying to teach me that I should not pursue friendships with women in any of the churches that Eddie and I were serving in because it would only end up hurting me in the end.
I’m so grateful that I didn’t heed that advice. I have experienced such deep community and friendship with people in our local church, and my life is richer for it. The truth is, yes, I have been hurt, deeply hurt, by members in my church. However, if you love deeply, you always risk the chance of getting deeply hurt. The deepest earthly love we will experience in life is either from a parent/child relationship or with our spouse, and we all know that we have been hurt the worst by those types of relationships. Yet those relationships are the most valuable in our lives.
Why would I write this to our leaders in the Eastern District? I currently meet too many pastors and pastors wives who are lonely. Why are we missing out on koinonia? Why not let the guard down and let people in? Are we too afraid we will lose our jobs if we allow others to see the hidden struggles in our lives? Maybe we have those hidden struggles because we are so alone.
I want to stretch your thinking about isolation. Let’s push against the lie that we should not be friends with people in our congregations and pursue deep connections with the flocks God has gifted us with for community.
I remember when I was young feeling so lonely and telling my husband I had no friends. Very sensitively he said, “If you have no friends, be a friend.” I didn’t really appreciate what I perceived to be not so graceful advice at the time, but it truly pushed me to pursue people the way Jesus pursued me. I realized when I stopped looking for them to pursue me but pursued them, they received me with gladness.
People in the church can be just as uncomfortable with us as we are with them. We have to set the temperature. At 27 years of age, I came to a church in Staten Island, NY with my husband. I had no friends, no family, and no understanding of the culture. Two years in, I was lonely, exhausted, frustrated with a church who I thought didn’t want to follow my husband’s leadership and unwilling to let people in. I kept most people at an arm’s length.
I’m so glad that isn’t the end of that story.
I realized at that time I needed a mentor and partner in prayer. I pursued someone in my church who was older than me, more experienced in ministry than I was, and had come into NYC as an outsider as well. For 11 years we met weekly in prayer and shared some of the richest times of my adult life, pursuing God together with our requests, our frustrations, and our praise. I let go of the fear that she would judge me for being human and asked for her to hold up my arms when I was weak and that I would commit to do the same.
I left that church 3 years ago with mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. We shared holidays together at each other’s tables. We went on double dates together. We watched each other’s children. We cried with each other when relatives died. We celebrated the new lives being born into the kingdom on a regular basis.
My life was richer because I chose to reject isolation, and live together with my people – the people of God.
Solitude is necessary for the refilling of our souls to be able to pour out to others but let’s never mistake isolation for solitude. Let’s enjoy the benefits of “breaking bread from house to house. Eating food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all people”(Acts 2:46b-47).