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)

The “Other” Words

In my church, we talk a lot about words of life. They are meant to be words that encourage people and call them into a deeper, more joyful way of living. However, there’s another paradigm that sometimes enters into the words we listen to. There are other words out there that are much more difficult to hear, sometimes so much so that they don’t feel much like “words of life” at all. In fact, they feel a bit like.

Death.

At least, they hurt pretty bad.

Once I was with my family and I was wondering about how I hadn’t been more successful in my somewhat anti-climactic musical career, and my beloved sister just looked at me and said, “Well it’s probably because you were just too lazy and too unhealthy to be successful.”

Ouch.

But the thing is, even with words that direct, and that challenging (and trust me: I don’t really like to hear words like that), I wasn’t crushed. I didn’t yell, or lash back.

In fact, I realized that I was sitting in front of deep truth, and I had to choose whether to hear and embrace it, or turn away.

To that end, I chose to hear it, and some remarkable things happened:

  • That truth actually released me from some regret and some preoccupation with my past failures as an artist. I realized that I really was responsible—in a way—for my lack of success.
  • It led me to continue to confront those two themes—laziness and “un-health”—in my life, which has led to some cool healing.

Now, I take it as a given for Christians that we understand that sometimes death needs to happen before new life can take place.

Good Friday happens before Easter.

To that end, sometimes words of life don’t feel like words of life at all. They can feel like words of death: hard and challenging even sad. But when they are spoken by people we trust, and spoken in a manner that is designed for us to grow, these hard words can kill something inside of us that needs to die in order for growth, new life, and healing to take place.

However, I also know that words can be uttered with the intent to destroy, not resurrect; to reduce, not instruct; to hurt and not love. So before you decide to “hear” hard words, I’d offer a few suggestions:

  • Consider the source: do you trust them? Do you trust that they love you? Are they people of the light?
  • Consider the environment: were they angry when they said it (my sister was not)? Were you in a fight?
  • Consider the implications: what would happen if you took their words into your heart? In my case, I sensed that Beth’s words would set me free, and so I could allow them in.

I’ve heard other harsh words in my life, but what about you? Have you heard hard truths that ultimately invited you to grow in profound ways?

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