The Gift of Isolation

What’s the nature of our life together?

For years, I was under the impression that “community” meant a sort of seamless “inter-meshing” of lives; a true uniting of individuals.

I’ve now come to understand that this belief has caused a tremendous amount of stress and strain in my life.

I was speaking with my counselor this summer (don’t have a counselor? Get one. Trust me.), and I was talking about my dad.

Here’s what you need to know about my dad: he had a big personality. He was a salesman (a really good one), and it showed through in most of the dynamic of our lives. He dominated—albeit benevolently—our family for decades.

Then he had a stroke.

A big one.

He really shouldn’t have survived but he did (and we are grateful). Furthermore, he’s made a remarkable recovery: he gets around, and talks and interacts and everything.

But much of the “largeness” of that personality was taken from him in 2004, AND FROM OUR FAMILY AS WELL.

We were sort of left reeling. There was a void at the center and point of our family, and also in my life as a man. All of a sudden, the man that was supposed to help me navigate fatherhood (not to mention my 40s and 50s) was gone. In its place there was now a wall, a barrier, that was just spray-painted with the word, “Stroke.”

I could no longer get to the man that I’d grown up with. I was left outside. I felt that, deeply.

I felt very alone.

I was relating all that to my counselor (again: don’t have yet? get one. trust me.), and he reflected back that to me: “So what you’re saying is that since your dad’s stroke you feel isolated from him?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “That’s it.”

Then he hit me with the big guns.

“Well, all he’s done is pointed out a central truth of our existence: the truth is, we are all isolated from each other. We can’t know perfect union or relationship in this lifetime. To be human is to be isolated—to some degree or another—from each other.”

.To be human is to be isolated—to one degree or another—from each other.”

That hit me like a ton of bricks.

And then it set me free.

It’s easy to labor under the illusion that we can expect perfection:

  • perfect families
  • perfect jobs
  • perfect community
  • perfect relationships

In actuality, we live in an “in between” world:

  • in between Genesis and Revelation
  • in between brokenness and beauty
  • in between fracture and healing
  • in between isolation and reconciliation

This is the human condition. Freedom comes when we begin to accept it, and release those around from the burden of being perfect.

(Including ourselves.)

It may sound like a sad or depressing to think of ourselves as ultimately isolated from each other, but it really shouldn’t. I think it’s really simply choosing to accept and to live in the reality that God has given us.

The truth of the matter is that we will know this someday.

Just not quite yet.

The exciting part is that it can start now; we can begin to move closer to each other.

But only if we know where we are starting from.

Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. (1 Corinthians 13v12 CEB)

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6 thoughts on “The Gift of Isolation

  1. As I’ve been muddling over what you wrote, I’m wondering if the isolation you spoke of isn’t tied somehow to expectations. When we expect a relationship with another to be a certain way and then it’s not, we do experience disconnect…but isn’t it a disconnect from the way we expected to be connected to the other? In those situations, do we remain ‘disconnected/isolated’ or do we reframe our expectations and more or less establish/nurture a different type of relationship?

    But in another way, there will always be a part of another and a part of ourselves that is so unique that it is ours alone and really can’t be open to others. And yet, that uniqueness effects our whole being and so in some way touches and interacts with others.

    I believe we were created to be in community but that doesn’t mean we are all alike. Rather it means we bring our uniqueness into the whole as others do the same. Then through good times and bad, changes and certainties, struggles and compromise the community lives and works as part of the church of Jesus Christ.

    Coming back to your comments about a one-on-one relationship where one person changes in ways that greatly touches another’s life (your dad and you) how do you adjust to that? Do you keep trying to make it as it was? Do you accept it and step back? Do you reshape your expectations and go with the flow? I struggled with my relationship with my dad after he remarried. Everything changed and the father we (my sisters and I) had known really didn’t exist anymore. We could share stories of our lives together before the marriage but my dad’s interactions with us after were pretty much decreed by his wife. He was so afraid of being alone like he was after our mother’s death that he didn’t speak up and insist that we should be treated like an important part of his life.

    In the end–and it still hurts my heart–he died without any of us there because she didn’t want us there so didn’t call us until he had died. Then she had him cremated before we could get there. I have to say that the word ‘isolation’ never occurred to me as a description of what I was feeling. I felt left out, discounted, and very angry. I continued to work at having a relationship with him while he was alive but it was certainly different and much less fulfilling than it had been a few years before.

    Eric, I’m afraid this doesn’t make much sense but that just shows how ‘unfinished’ I am with it all.
    Thanks for your insight and willingness to share something so personal.

    • Thank YOU for sharing… I’ve worked hard—still working hard, actually—to accept the relationship with my dad. It’s all about letting go, and then (as you said) accepting where things are at now.

      Beautifully written (as usual). Thanks mom!

  2. Eric, Your post is truth, and as we are in a state of human isolation, we at present through Jesus the Christ, are perfectly united in faith and are used by Him for His perfect plan that will be clear to us when we stand before Him face to face.

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