Several months ago, Laura and I taught at a church in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
For those of you who are not Michiganders, our state’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas are connected by the five-mile long Mackinac Bridge. If you don’t like bridges, you really wouldn’t like the Mackinac. If you’re fascinated by bridges, you would love it. The views of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Straits of Mackinac are spectacular . . . but if something should go wrong and you plunge over the side of the bridge’s railing, in the dulcet tones of Captain Quint—”farewell and adieu, to you fair Spanish ladies . . .”
The Mackinac Bridge reminds me of relationships. Some of us fear relational connection. Maybe due to past hurts, disappointments, or even abuse—we’ve burned bridges in an attempt to protect ourselves from further damage. Often, our default move when we’re going through a difficult time is to isolate ourselves. Problem is, extended isolation is a trap.
Staying disconnected from certain people is understandable, and in some cases advisable. But God never intended for us to live outside of meaningful relationships on a regular basis.
For some of us, our struggle with isolation is not due to fear but to our fast pace. We overschedule, overcommit, and friendship gets squeezed out. It’s a sobering day when you realize you haven’t spent any quality time with friends in weeks (or months). Long-term isolation is not healthy for our soul.
Isolation is good only in small doses. Time spent alone with God, moments of reflecting, thinking, and recalibrating—these are good uses of alone time. But in so many ways isolation is the devil’s playground. He knows human beings don’t think right when in prolonged seclusion. For example, depression and anxiety fester under the cover of isolation; they are diminished when exposed to the light of relationship. This principle is true of most things we struggle with; maybe everything we struggle with.
So if you’re feeling isolated and alone, but are afraid to connect—or feel you’re too busy to come out of relational exile—what can you do? How can you escape the trap of isolation?
Find safe people
What do safe people look like?
Safe people care about you and are committed to you. Safe people tell you the truth wrapped in layers of love. They cheer you on. They allow you to have an opinion and don’t try to control you. When you’re struggling, safe people walk alongside you through the struggle. Work diligently to find those kinds of people and get them on your calendar. Guard those safe-people-appointments with your life—because in some ways, those appointments will save your life.
Reconfigure your schedule
When was the last time you spent an evening with replenishing friends, with nothing on the agenda except to have fun? You may be thinking: “I’m too busy to waste time having fun. I’m trying to build the church or my ministry or the company I own.” Listen: the size of your organization and the buildings you’ve built won’t be front and center when your time comes to pass from this world. The amount of money in your stock portfolio and the possessions you pile up won’t matter on your death bed. What will matter are the relationships you nurtured. So, reconfigure your schedule to include regular connection with friends who fill up your emotional tank. Treat these “friend-dates” with the same level of commitment you would for a work appointment. (Sorry for the repeat of this friend-appointment-thing, but it’s important.)
What is preventing you from cultivating the most important relationships in your life? Don’t wait for other people (who may also be afraid and/or busy) to reach out to you. Take the first step. Overcome those negative thoughts preventing you from going first. “If they wanted anything to do with me, they would have reached out to me by now.” “Why do I always have to be the one to call?” Reject those relationally-defeating ideas and go first.
If we want to get where God wants us to go and be healthy at the same time, we have to avoid the trap of isolating ourselves, especially during seasons of trouble. God built us for friendship. “It is not good that man should be alone.” Hmm . . . I think I read that in the Bible somewhere. Oh yea—in the very beginning!
Find some safe people. Rework your schedule. Go first. Refuse to be sucked into isolation’s trap.
I’m rooting and praying for you!
P.S. – I want to share with you some feedback we received from a reader of our new book: Putting the Good in Goodbye: A Healthy Conversation About the Comings & Goings of Church People
“John, I think God knew the moment we met a couple of years ago that I was going to need this book two years later. This book is very relevant in my life in the current place I am and really helped me to begin to see God’s people the way He sees them. I needed this book and I needed it at this time. This book was a godsend to me!”