DMINLGP

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

Never Alone

Written by: on March 19, 2015

Sitting on my bed, alone in my room. I remember the anguish that came over 24 year old me. Maybe it pushed itself from the inside of me. Maybe it was a convergence of both. At that moment, I remember expressing my frustration to God with these words: “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! Why is this happening?!” Unfortunately it wasn’t the first time the confusing distress over my circumstances would be cast heavenward only to feel like they bounced right back off the ceiling. Alone. Again?!

However, in this particular exchange, the lessons learned then have stayed with me ever since.

man-in-prayer-christian-stock-photo

This was my time of isolation:

I was four months removed from my first mission experience, having spent three months in Spain. I was seven months removed from selling my car, a beautiful glittering champagne coloured Pontiac Firebird with a T-roof. I had quit my comfortable, dependable job with the bank. I was sacrificing everything for God – wasn’t that noble of me? Upon my return home, the world was different through my eyes. The lessons I’d learned and the people I learned them from had made a profound impact on my life. Coming home was huge adjustment. At first I was willing to work anywhere and do anything. I was thankful for the opportunity to work, I had a new attitude. One of my favourite jobs, ever, was working 12 hour days at a brand new private golf course: cutting grass, shoveling gravel, sweeping roadways so the members didn’t get stone chips on their cars. It was awesome! When that season ended I needed new work and before long I found it. I was now a roofer. I still got to work outside, this time, I was the guy carrying shingles, 2 packs at a time, up the ladders. I was the guy dodging the old shingles and nails on the ground and then picking them all up and hauling them to the dumpster. I actually loved it…until. Until one day, two weeks in, I was having a conversation with a group of the guys and realized that I was making the lowest wage of anyone on the crew. All of a sudden, my demeanour changed, my attitude changed and my desire for employment changed…I quit!! It wasn’t fair! I deserve better than that, in part, because of what “I” had done for God. Surely He wouldn’t want me to do this kind of work for that kind of money? Turns out He didn’t. He thought I could do with even less and so I spent the next three months unemployed, no work, no money. Alone, I was, only because “I” didn’t make room for God in “my” plans.

In those moments the truth of Shelley Trebesch’s writing, in her book Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, became a reality for me. Trebesch describes the four fold process of isolation (p. 44) in these terms (I have added my own journey in the parentheses) :

  1. Stripping – Usually a breaking process that prepares a person to want to go deep with God. (see above story)
  2. Wrestling with God – Turns the experience from a why to a what and creates a hunger for God. (It took two of those months for me to trust God enough to wrestle with Him, rather than blame Him. In that last month the question turned from “Why?” to “What?” and although I’ve faced times of isolation again, the question “Why?” is never uttered, and for that I am thankful).
  3. Increased Intimacy with God – Forms a hunger for and a deepened relationship with God which will affect all future ministry since ministry flows out of being. (Isolation has allowed me to examine God’s Word and His Creation to see how He was at work in people’s lives and how He is at work in the world around us. Through those observations, even in times of difficulty, there is never any doubt about His presence.)
  4. Looking forward to the future – Frees up the person to know more of God. Experience more of God, and to expectantly look to God’s continued presence in life and ministry. (Having been through a few significant isolation experiences, one of the phrases that I have come to cherish is “I don’t know but Jesus does.” It keeps me looking to God and hopefully reminds others to do the same.)

So what am I learning as a result of that isolation experience, 23 years ago?

  • Pride, left unchecked, can show itself and dig it’s heals in quickly. In particular, after ministry ‘highs’ there is an openness to pride. Learning to remove myself from the ‘accomplishment’ of ministry is an on-going battle that must always be fought.
  • That God is my provider, my employer is not. Since that time the Lord has freed me from ever asking about compensation and since that time he has taught me about sufficiency, contentment and generosity.
  • My value does not come from my work, but from the stewardship of the gifts that He has given. His gifts (in my case: teaching, leadership, encouragement) are fuelled by the work of His Holy Spirit. My value is being considered His child, a co-heir with Christ which is independent of my job, title or pay scale. Always making time to use His gifts has allowed me to learn how to discern what opportunities to take on and which to let pass.
  • Isolation though it can be imposed through unwelcoming external circumstances, can also be integrated into the regular course of our lives. Lent is a period of time where we can enter into the four-fold process of isolation. Engaging the promise of Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) is another one that many, especially pastors, miss. If we are routinely meeting God in isolation, which Jesus’ exemplifies (Luke 5:16), then we are less likely to fear the greater more extended times of isolation, in fact we may even welcome them because in them we find out that we are never alone.

If you knew that God was preparing you for something that He’s uniquely designed for you, how would you approach isolation differently?

About the Author

mm

Deve Persad

14 responses to “Never Alone”

  1. Brenna says:

    What a great article Pastor Deve, thank you for constantly challenging our faith for the better!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Brenna,

      You also have modelled these very things. Your growing desire to honour the Lord is always an encouragement.

  2. mm Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Deve,
    Thank you for sharing your experience of isolation. Isn’t it amazing how noble we think we are? I had a similar experience when I first moved to Korea – leaving behind my lovely house, fast car, cute cat – and for what? A shared apartment which had an ants infestation, lol. God knows how to strip us down, doesn’t He?
    I love what you point out at the end: the importance of meeting God in our isolations. That is the key to surviving the lessons of isolation I think. Thanks Deve.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Liz,

      There are probably several keys to navigating the murky waters of isolation – however it is of primary importance to believe that God is with us in the middle of it. Another key, that I’ve been joyfully reminded of is having people around you will allow you to go through the period of “isolation” and not rush you through it. As I think back through this particular episode, those people are still involved in my life, even if we aren’t if close geographical distance.

  3. Ashley says:

    Deve, a numbered list AND a bullet point list? AND a question at the end? This may be your best post yet! … Seriously, I do love waking up on Thursday mornings and reading your posts. With your pastoral care, it is a devotion for me.

    Your first bullet point is one I have often found myself struggling with:

    Pride, left unchecked, can show itself and dig it’s heals in quickly. In particular, after ministry ‘highs’ there is an openness to pride. Learning to remove myself from the ‘accomplishment’ of ministry is an on-going battle that must always be fought.”

    Pride is so tricky. It is so easy to let its friend arrogance slip into our lives. How do we guard against this sinful nature?

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Here’s to the TarHeels!

      Hmmm…fighting against arrogance is so hard! It is such a subtle and divisive characteristic because it often disguises itself in knowledge and experience. It usually is recognized by closed statements that don’t leave opening for discussion or varied opinion. What would you add to the descriptive list of “arrogance”?

  4. Michael Badriaki says:

    Deve, thank you for sharing this heartfelt blog. It is great to read other people’s stories and learn about how God was at work during such moments as isolation.
    God’s ways are strange to the human eye and desires and so it’s a transforming experience when God reveals His work especially during confusing times in life.

    Thank you!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Thanks Michael – Those lessons, although it’s almost half my life ago, seem so real. I am thankful for that and for the faithfulness of God throughout these years. In some ways, I wish it were the only period of isolation I’ve gone through, but the reality is that I am often slow to learn and therefore the Lord has needed to set me aside and get my attention on a few different occasions.

  5. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Deve,

    Thank you for this great reflection on your own isolation journey.
    I did, in retrospect, think of some of my own experiences – perhaps, as I look back, more difficult than I ever understood. I appreciated your reflections that have transposed your experience into learning practices that impact your spiritual life and ministry.

    I am not sure I can do what you have done – translate a dramatic experience so clearly and succinct for today’s context. Maybe I’ll spend some time; I think it would be helpful.

    What I wondered: How did Trebesch specifically help you to see your experiences retrospectively? Had you gained some of these insights before reading “Isolation?” She gives so many good pointers (my favorite is Chapter VII); would it have helped to know these thing 23 years ago (you gave away your age, 47; when is your next birthday?)? Are we perceptive and insightful enough to apply these concepts as we have new experiences? Looking forward is one of the four-fold processes of isolation.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Ron, you ask so many good questions here. First let me say that I strongly recommend revisiting your times of isolation. They become benchmarks (like old testament pillars) that can serve to remind you of God’s faithfulness. Those reminders are vital in life and ministry to encourage perseverance.
      As for your questions, I found Trebesch’s writings to provide articulation to my experiences. I hadn’t necessarily categorized them in this way, but certainly her analysis fit – which doesn’t always happen. From that stand point, I don’t think I learned new information, just better how to understand my own journey. One of the big things that I’ve been working on over the last few years, is “preparing for the next thing” – always looking forward to what the Lord has to show me, where He has to lead me. This book helped with those thoughts. In that way, I do believe we can look at our situation, with the help of others, and recognize these not necessarily as steps, but overlapping stages within the transformative process.

  6. Deve,

    Brilliant post! Bravo! Loved it!

    I, too, have had important isolation experiences as those you have described. I believe these are necessary seasons for us, particularly for Christian (and all) leaders. If you read my short post this week, you will see a theory I have to help keep leaders in touch with what is important in life.

    The question I would like to ask is if we are willing to through “isolation” in our older lives, after we are already “established”? It might come through a job loss, an indiscretion, or some other kind of calamity. In my view, the most important virtue for a Christian leader to have is humility. When one loses that virtue, I think an “isolation” experience is just around the corner. If not, then that person will not be truly effective in the Kingdom of God. God help us all to remain humble instruments in His hands.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Well Professor, I did read through your post and I’ve got to tell you that is some great thoughts. I love the challenge that your leadership plan presents. It reminds me of the show “Undercover Boss”; where the president or CEO of a company spends an extended time in the lower levels and out of the experience gains new appreciation for real world problems and the actual lives of the people who make their company go. It’s not unlike the Incarnation of Jesus, coming to earth as a human being – it takes “humility” to enter into those positions and it takes “humility” to endure and engage it in order to truly empathize, learn and have it impact leadership practice. I could go on, but now this is bridging into my own dissertation material…so I may need to borrow (with credit) your ideas here. Thanks so much!

  7. mm Julie Dodge says:

    I was about 22 during my first isolation experience. I wonder sometimes about the timing of that experience. My youthful righteousness, my youthful arrogance – I wonder if perhaps many of us encounter this period around this age. I became disillusioned. Not with God, but with ministry. And God revealed to me my need for humility and patience and grace. I wonder home much of this is developmentally necessary – just as human beings – and then I appreciate God’s grace in leading us through it. Because others walk away, and that saddens me. Thanks for your thoughts. Deve.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Julie, age is definitely a contributing factor. There is so much refining that is required in our lives. But I think that refinement is continual throughout our lives and not just for those in ministry. What it does require is the capacity to go through with God in order to discover what God is preparing for us. Absolutely there is sadness when I consider those who have been disillusioned with ministry and worse, some with God. How important it should be for us to come alongside and provide prayer, voice and presence as they experience their own isolation period. I know in my experiences, I have benefited from people who were intentional in those roles. Even though they couldn’t enter into the intensity of my isolation experience, they could find a way to support me through it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *