It’s Lonely at the Top…..
but when life hands you lemons, try making lemonaide
While most of us appreciate a little ‘alone time’, very few people would choose to be isolated from others, especially for any extended period of time. But just because we might not choose times of isolation (often called ‘wilderness’ or ‘desert’ experiences), doesn’t mean they don’t hold value for us.
In her compact book, Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, author Shelley Trebesch makes the argument that these times actually foster a deep period of growth, development and transformation in the Christian leader.
She draws a clear picture of what isolation looks like:
During a desert or wilderness time, one is removed from his/her normal, daily routine or home and isolated from friends and family. A person in a desert time may not feel the presence of God, and it may seem that he/she is alone in a dark and foreign land. One cannot rely on what used to be familiar. The person consequently walks through a breaking or stripping process after which his/her character becomes transformed. (Trebesch, 9)
She also makes explicit why these isolation experiences can be so powerful:
Probably the most important thing to learn from this later experience is that God uses isolation experiences to accomplish things through us that we could never accomplish apart from the isolation experience. (Trebesch, 8)
Trebesch uses case studies from Scripture, for her own life and from history to illustrate the times of isolation, why they might come about and what positive things can result from walking through these wilderness times. She also strongly believes that this knowledge, understanding what others have experienced and how they have come through those periods and what they have learned in that process, can help prepare us for when these times of isolation come in our own lives (and Trebesch does her best to make clear what we already know – that these times will come for all of us.)
I found the structure of the book helped drive her point home and make it more accessible to the reader as well. I particularly appreciated how she gave a case study, reflected on it in the commentary section and/or gave key bullet points. Many of those bullet points will stick with me for quite a while [‘Intimacy with Jesus empowers an isolation experience. This is ultimately the goal of any isolation time’ (Trebesch, 26)]
I kept thinking to myself, does it really? All the time? Trebesch addresses this, or at least attempts to at the beginning of the book, but even so, this though still kept pulling me out of the book.
In the end, while imperfect, I appreciate this book as it endeavors to put flesh and bones on the message of Paul in Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. That passage, and in many ways this book, is an invitation to trust God and focus on the grace and peace, the presence and protection of our God, even – and maybe even especially when things look bleak, when you feel isolated and you aren’t even sure that God is listening or able to help us.
Perhaps the simple truth is that these times of isolation, in the stripping away all of that distracts us; all that we think gives us strength and notoriety; all the other things (good and worthy and things, some of them) that require our attention and want our focus. The isolation forces us to reconcile with the truth that we cannot – we are not meant or intended – to go through life alone. We are designed to be in relationship with God first and then we were designed to be in relationships with each other. Ironically, it may be that isolation and the separation that comes with it are just the thing required to forge that connection.