Isolation, as described by Shelley Trebesch in her book Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, is a desert or wilderness time, where one is removed from his/her normal daily routine or home and isolated from friends and family. A person is 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. This is where many leaders have gone and where many leaders will go. Working with people and leading people has many different issues and this in one of those. So many Old Testament and New Testament illustrations of people who were led by God into isolation and those who made choices that led them to be alone. Shelley does a great job of streamlining her thoughts and exploring all the possibilities of isolation.
The two reasons for isolation being voluntary and involuntary is an interesting concept. The first is that of a sabbatical or one that is planned three times in a person of ministries life. This sounds like a great thing as more and more churches are understanding the need for this practice.
The four reasons for the involuntary isolation were very insightful.
- Organizational Discipline
- War or Natural Disasters.
The one that I am most familiar with is the one for organization discipline. This very straightforward look at this process with very calculated language was insightful.
Isolation is not usually something that people choose. Think about it. Being alone is not something that is desirable, but there are people who live most of their life in this exact location. The ninety-nine percent of those who go into isolation and then come out of isolation do it with purpose and come out closer to God. But what about the one percent? What about those who have others lead them into isolation and they don’t come out the other side okay? What about those who have life hand them isolation whether it is voluntary or involuntary? Sometimes life hands people isolation where there is not a quick fix. Sometimes life ends with those who were assigned to isolation without a happy ever after. Those are the thoughts that I kept gravitating to as I was reading this book. What about the one percent?
Sometimes isolation takes you to despair and the author referenced the children of Israel remaining in the desert because of disobedience. But sometimes there is no disobedience and life just hands you isolation because of an event that was out of your control. John the Baptist comes to mind. Samson is another example that jumps out. Both examples ended in death. Ceremonial beheading and a suicidal mission seem to be what I remember. But what about those who never make it out of the isolation? Forty years is a long time to endure anything, Moses made it but what about those who don’t?
This book was very complete in looking at the Old Testament and the New Testament case studies and even the personal examples and ministry examples were insightful. The idea that isolation can happen voluntary and involuntary and then the clarity to list how those things happen was terrific. The process of what isolation can do for anyone who is willing to submit and go through was thorough. Isolation as a ministry concept is one that is hard to understand because most ministry is with, for and about people. The struggle that happens within this situation is real and most often painful. The author really brought this to the reader.
Self-choice is well worded concept. Voluntary isolation is not an easy choice. Sometimes ministers need to be proactive and do things that will further their ministry. No one else is going to do this for you.
The author identified three areas of self-choice:
- Education or Training.
- Social based.
Choosing to get “healthy” is never an easy one but it can be essential. This educational process is a self-choice. The amount of time and effort that it takes to accomplish this degree is not an easy one. There are sacrifices that must be made but choosing what is hard over what is easy is a considerable task. The explanation of this concept was very bright. It felt very familiar to how life is right now.
Involuntary isolation is incredibly hard. Our church is one of the churches that help with this process for our denomination. The process of helping ministers to have the access to go back into their profession is not any easy one. The amount of work and the amount of patience that it takes to finally be resolved or absolved of the issue is monumental. It wears on the family and on the individual like sandpaper on wood. Watching this first hand brings this subject and this book even closer to home. One of the areas that the author just skimmed was the subject of fairness. Sometimes life is not fair and sometimes people are hateful and revengeful. How to navigate the wide range of emotions is engulfing. The words of wisdom concerning attitude toward this process were insightful.
The one percent comes into play in this area. Some never recover from isolation. Sometimes there is something that is completely out of the parties involved control. They didn’t ask for it, they can’t get out of it. It is simply what it is. When this form of isolation comes, God is still there! God doesn’t change but there is that small percentage that never see the relief that is spoken of in this book. I know the illustrations that show the great victories after the monumental struggles are some of our most favorite to preach about and to talk about with our community but sometimes that struggle goes to the grave.
What is encouraging though is that scripture even addresses this moment. Hebrews eleven points out to us that some of those who had faith for the promise to happen didn’t see it happen. So, what if life takes you to isolation and death takes you at that point? The authors conclusion is still applicable. “You can be prepared for a season of isolation by making a decision beforehand (pre-choice choice is what I call this decision) to embrace the process of isolation. Make a decision to stay in isolation until the Lord calls you out of it. Make a decision to embrace all that God has for you during isolation. God will do wondrous and amazing things in your life. Expect it and embrace his transformation.”
 Shelley Trebesch, Isolation: A place of transformation in the life of a leader,
(Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1997) 9.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 76.