The Myth of Isolation
From 2007 (with updates)
So There I was...
Lying in my childhood bed, terrified. I awoke with the sense that something was very, very wrong. The light was wrong. It was way too late in the morning for me to be in bed on a school day. The normal sounds of our household were absent. The teakettle had not whistled. That is the sound that usually ended my dreams. The sound of my parents sitting at the kitchen table reading the scripture and praying for each of us children by name had not occurred, that was my normal ten-minute warning for getting up. I listened carefully; there was not a sound in the house. Then I listened for the sounds of the city. I was, after all, in Chicago, there were millions of people out there. Then I realized that the whole world had gone silent. There were no cars or trucks rumbling down Harlem Avenue a block away. There were no sounds from the neighbors. There were no airplanes in the sky. A city of millions was silent.
I came swiftly to the only solution that a child of Evangelical dispensationalists (Darbyism) could come to. Jesus had come like a thief in the night and had taken away every good person from the world and I was alone in my family, unraptured. I was scared but not really surprised. I wasn’t all that good of a kid. But then I thought about it some more and wondered if my little brother might not still be sleeping in his bed. He was kind of a pain in the neck, he might still be here. I thought about how a couple of kids might try and survive the apocalypse. I knew we were in for at least seven years of tribulation. I wondered if I forged a note would they let me get the folks’ money out of the bank before it was too late. I wondered if we could get to our cousins, those people were Elvis worshippers and had just found out how wrong they were – but it seemed like taking up with heathens might be a bad idea just at the moment. I eventually decided to go and see if my brother was present. I left my room and saw the silent empty kitchen. The clock confirmed that it was past time to leave for school. No doubt now. I crept into the living room and to my utter shock and amazement, there sat my dad.
Looking out the window at the two feet of snow that had fallen unexpectedly in the night. No work, no school today. No trucks, no airplanes. A city silenced by God, but not robbed by God. I crawled into my dad’s lap and breathed in the relief of the pardoned sinner. I was not alone.
The fear of being alone, temporarily or permanently, is not just an irrational fear of religious children. The fear of being alone is one of the most pervasive and destructive fears in our world. It touches almost everyone eventually. It causes suicides. It fuels addictions. It provokes people into crazy behaviors that increase rather than decrease their chances of loneliness. And it is a groundless fear. Because true isolation is a myth, an impossibility.
Every major religion teaches this. Christendom in its right mind teaches this. Jesus said “I will never leave you or forsake you, not until the end of time.” The Apostle told us that we are surrounded by a host of witnesses cheering us on to finish our footrace. Angels manifest at the oddest moments speaking the inevitable “fear not.”
Science teaches this. We are all really connected. The wings of a butterfly can start a hurricane. There are resonances between particles at a distance. Nothing corner of the material world is or can be isolated from the rest.
The mistake comes when we use feelings to predict fact. Now I am all for feelings. Get the full 96-crayon box of them and use them as often as you can, but as predictors of fact, they are notoriously fallible. Sometimes we feel lonely. This is the feeling that defines a craving for more or better relationship. It hurts. It is supposed to. But if we sit in the lonely feeling and use it to predict an isolated future, and let that fear escalate, we will do nutty things. We will forsake our integrity. We will medicate our loneliness. We attempt to latch onto anything that seems to offer relief.
Loneliness is a feeling given to us by God to cause us to seek community. You may be unlucky in love, but community does not rely on luck. It relies on initiative. You have to get outside of yourself and your feelings and do something to connect. You have to give, and be vulnerable enough to let others give to you. It is hard work, but it works every time.
You commune with the past by living up to the investment that those who have loved you have made in you, and listening for their cheers from the stands. You commune with the future by investing in others and by tilling the soil and planting the seeds that will feed and shade those who will come after you. You live in anticipation of their gratitude, knowing that you will take your place in the spiritual mezzanine to watch their performances. You choose, by will, to live in the truth that you are a valued piece of a great company of saints. You take responsibility for your feelings and your life.
The fear mongers of this world and the spiritual realm would like you to live in the fear of isolation. They want you to predict, and then live in, the lie that you are likely to end up alone and scared. This will prevent you from making those healthy connections with the past present and future that foil the fear-based plans they have for controlling your present.
Let us reject this lie.
We are not alone. We were not born alone. We were not alone before we were born and we will not be alone in our lives or our deaths and we will not be alone after our deaths. God is as close as your breath. The saints are as close as the ear of your soul. Community is as close as your outstretched hand. (or your keyboard)