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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

It’s Lonely at the Top or Making Lemonade from the Lemons Life Gives You

Written by: on February 8, 2018

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.

About the Author

mm

Chip Stapleton

Follower of Jesus Christ. Husband to Traci. Dad to Charlie, Jack, Ian and Henry. Preacher of Sermons, eater of ice cream, supporter of Arsenal. I love to talk about what God is doing in the world & in and through us & create space and opportunity for others to use their gifts to serve God and God's people.

13 responses to “It’s Lonely at the Top or Making Lemonade from the Lemons Life Gives You”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yep- there it is again, relationship: “We are designed to be in relationship with God first and then we were designed to be in relationships with each other.” Interesting connection with the irony that isolation drives us towards a relationship with God and others. I am reminded of the movie Into the Wild, where a man wanders into the wild forests of Alaska seeking the meaning of life. After months of time alone, he finally realizes the true meaning of life is relationships and sets off to reconnect. Only he discovers he cannot make it back due to the flooded river and (spoiler alert) ends up dying in isolation alone. Sometimes it takes isolation for us to recognize the value of relationships with God and others. It would have been a happier story if he could have reconnected with his relationships after his epiphany. Your post reminded me of the importance of valuing our relationships…and of a movie with a sad ending.

    Ok-I’m struggling to post this. It keeps messing up so I’ll try for the last time.

  2. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Chip- looks like I’m apart of your bio. I kept trashing it and it kept posting in your bio/post! Sorry for hijacking your bio/post- it really is all about you.

    • As you say, Jenn, it really is all about relationship! And maybe isolation can be so positive because it often provides the impetus for us to focus on that most important relationship – between us and God.

  3. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Chip- this is not the first quirky glitch. Check out the posts under me and you’ll see your bio assignment written by me.

  4. Lynda Gittens says:

    Chip

    I enjoyed the book and how she strategically laid it. Your comment, “The isolation forces us to reconcile with the truth that we cannot”
    As a person who has to know whats going on in my life and manage it, isolation not designed by me is uncomfortable. It forces me to realize that I don’t manage my life.
    Now that you have a new place to live and serve, have you experienced isolation? Being around unfamiliar surroundings.

    • Thanks for the response, Lynda….. I know that I will experience some isolation at one point or another in this transition, but honestly I haven’t yet…… We have been so blessed by the welcome we have received – and 1 week in, there has been so much going on (a wedding, a funeral – with another this week, 4 other hospital visits, hosting a community event, 2 special ‘welcome events’ and more…. I have had no opportunity at all for isolation!

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    Thanks for your post Chip. I appreciate the thought that “isolation forces us to reconcile with the truth that we cannot – we are not meant or intended – to go through life alone.” Great illustration: It’s lonely at the top…it’s annoying at the top! Enjoyed your post.

  6. Mary says:

    Ditto! I would add that your comment about “Perhaps the simple truth is that these times of isolation, in the stripping away all of that distracts us;” is the one that resonated with me the most. Not getting distracted from our priorities is so hard.
    And like you and Jen say, people – relationships should be priority.

  7. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “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.”

    Great closing sentence. It reminds me of what I have heard from Christians who have been imprisoned or kidnapped. Some of them, after being freed, have reported that they a part of them actually misses their time of confinement. Some have expressed some regret because they felt so close to God in their isolation…and not that they are free, that closeness has faded.

  8. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Jen– Your bio for Chip is better than his… no mention of Arsenal. 😉

    “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.” I think that’s part of what I came away with feeling like I’d missed in Trebesch’s text– the need for seeking relationships with God and others.

  9. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    I think all of us picked up on the same part of your post. “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.” What an irony it is that isolation can forge connection. The relational part of our lives is important and also plays a role in how we engage in the fourfold process. I agree there were some points that could have been addressed in the text but you pulled out some interesting reflections. Thanks for sharing Chip!

  10. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I’ll be honest, when I read your title, I expected a little more Beyonce…oh well.
    “The isolation forces us to reconcile with the truth that we cannot – we are not meant or intended – to go through life alone.” The weird paradox here is that the isolation brings with it a loneliness that can be felt in a crowded room, especially if God is silent. The hope comes from hearing that others have passed this way and found God to be near.

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