Reading Shelly Trebesch’s Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of A Leader, brought to mind an experience I had twenty years ago while traveling in Germany. I see that as an ‘Isolation’ according to Shelly’s description, one that leaders are taken through voluntarily or involuntarily. Passing through such a valley of ‘isolation’, transforms and liberates the leader to be more effective. I recall three distinct periods of involuntary ‘Isolation’ in my life of varied durations ranging from three days to two months that have not only left an indelible mark on me but have led to spiritual growth and a higher tenacity as a leader. They were difficult and painful to go through and perhaps ones that I would have definitely avoided. However, looking back, I see the value of those experiences in the shaping of my character, leadership and intimacy with God.
The following is a gist of the narrative from my 1994 journal related to my ‘isolation’ in Germany that lasted three days:
Completely stripped of all identity, I was stranded in a foreign land without money and unable to contact friends or family. (This was prior to the days of cell phones and laptops). On the 24th of September 1994, my brief case was stolen from me in Frankfurt Germany. The culprit walked away with everything of immediate value to me – things that I could not afford to lose, things that I thought were irreplaceable; they had been snatched away from me; my passport, plane ticket, my Bible, wallet, my address book, journal and calendar. Each had a meaning, and each had a special place in my heart. They were all my favorites. Not just articles, but things of value that I was attached to and proud of; things that I thought I couldn’t live without. One moment it seemed as though I had everything and the next moment it was all taken away. I could not prove to anyone who I was.
Let me describe what these things meant to me then:
My passport – I was always proud to see it, hold it, and show it. Three books pinned together. Many extra pages ofVisas and endorsements of arrival and departures from many countries around the world. I had never lost an opportunity to display it with great pride. I was the world traveler.
My diary and calendar – a busy schedule for the next two years. The pride of my job. My appointments – speaking engagements. It was an affirmation of the importance of my position to me. I felt wanted … accepted … needed … by a lot of people.
My wallet – credit cards and money provided a false sense of security. A feeling that nothing can get out of hand and out of control as long as I had it.
My Bible – I loved it. It was well marked, and filled with a lot of notes and sermon outlines. Preparation time for sermons was needless. I could open my favorite Bible and preach without notes, or dependence on the Lord. Just a quick “magic prayer” would do.
My address book – the knowledge of having many friends whom I could turn to when in need. The impulse was not to pray and turn to God, but to get to the nearest telephone.”
As essential and valuable as all the above could be, they needed to be placed in proper perspective. In my life they were misplaced. My pride and independence had to be broken. That conceited feeling and the confidence of being able to take care of myself under all circumstances had to go. I now stood naked before the Lord, without anything to offer except my desire – no- my dire need to depend on Him. I was able to see who I really was, and that was all that mattered. Stripped of all these things and outside of the context of my work, I had lost all identity, since it was all focused on ‘doing’. This experience helped me realize that my life and leadership was about ‘being’. Trebesch insightfully points out that: “Instead of finding identity in the ministry or in what one does, transformed leaders find identity by looking at the Artist, by looking toward the Author (Trebesch 1997, 50).” This experience transformed me in a remarkable way.
I find myself closely identifying with what I believe to be the most important principle underlying ‘Isolation’ that Shelly describes; and the heart of Christian leadership: “Most importantly these transformed leaders have a deeper more intimate relationship with God which is primary for their lives. Just as one enjoys the company of a friend who knows him/her deeply, these leaders enjoy God (52).” Will I ever get to that point?
Trebesch, Shelley. Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of A Leader. Altadena, California: Barnabas Publishers, 1997.