Anyone else out there looking down the barrel of an extra-isolated next few weeks with a bit of trepidation? I’m really happy for you all who are talking about how this time has been so renewing and refreshing for your family. I really am thankful you get to spend more time with your kids or spouse, to slow down, play, rest. So good.
But for those of us during this time that don’t have a family at home to quarantine or social distance with, it’s been tempting, at least for me, to take a cynical approach. It’s easy to say, well this can’t be a time of refreshment or reconnecting for me because I am alone. I’m not getting quality family time because I am by myself. Maybe you’re even experiencing those thoughts if there are other people in your house. For some of us right now, though, the house is extra quiet, and the knowledge that it may remain so for a while is a bit daunting.
Friends in this spot with me, let’s not let this be a pity party. We could go there, but there’s no life there for anyone. But we should be aware, or sober-minded as Peter says (1 Pet 5:8), of the implications of this new normal on our hearts and minds. It is certain that the devil does some of his most harmful work when we are isolated. Before we get in too deep, let’s take a look at the state of our hearts and minds during this time, especially if you are physically alone more today than is typical for you.
If you know me very well, you know that community is my heart and soul, and feeling cut off from it kind of freaks me out in an existential, “will we ever be able to gather again” kind of way. I know that’s crazy brain talking, but something that has helped me today is reminding myself that being alone is not bad in and of itself. Usually, I actually love my alone time to recharge, but this feels different, somehow.
Jesus reminds me why solitude is so important. Luke says that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16). That word “lonely places” is actually a word you’re probably more familiar with than you realize if you’ve read any of the gospels. If you have read John Mark Comer’s book, you might remember what he points out, that the gospel writers use the same word, eremos, where English translations say “lonely places,” the “wilderness” where Jesus was tempted (Mark 1:12), and the “quiet place” where Jesus takes his disciples (Mark 6:31). This was really surprising to me, because these ideas seem so contradictory in my mind. A lonely place sounds sad. A wilderness sounds scary. But a quiet place, that sounds peaceful. I wonder if, to Jesus, they weren’t so nuanced.
But wait a second – God said that it was not good for man to be alone, right? (Genesis 2:18) And that’s true, too. Community is in our very nature, because it is in God’s nature. We see that through the Trinity and through God’s original desire to make man in the first place (Gen 1:26). But Jesus’ life shows that just being with others constantly isn’t the full picture either, and that sometimes what looks like a lonely wilderness is actually just a quiet place, and that’s not so scary. These ideas aren’t contradictory; they demonstrate the truth that we need both human connection and connection with the Lord in solitude.
I think we sometimes forget that being isolated actually has little to do with how many bodies we are in proximity to at a given moment. We talk about that in my classroom a lot – and teenagers get it – how you can feel isolated even when you’re in a crowded space. We all get that, I think. Really, isolation has a lot more to do with whom your heart and mind are with than whom you’re physically with. Don’t get me wrong, both God and science tell us that we should be physically present with people, that it’s good for us. I heard once that the average human needs around eight hugs a day to be at their emotional best. How many of us get that on our best day? But beyond physicality, our degree of feeling isolated during this time of forced isolation will largely be determined by whom our hearts and minds spend their time with. Jesus knew the value of syncing his heart and mind up with his Father through solitude and prayer. We can do the same, especially now that we don’t really have many excuses not to.
You see, if our minds are only hanging out with our social media feeds during this time, our hearts will be gripped by panic and anxiety. If we are mentally rehearsing fear’s mantras from the moment we wake up until bedtime, we will not be able to experience or give love during our days. If we spend more time with any voice in our ear other than the voice of Jesus, I am convinced that this physical isolation will steadily drive us deeper into places of panic. If we don’t make a choice now, it will only get worse the longer we must practice this terrible concept of social distancing. (I know it’s medically important and the right thing to do, I just think Satan is jumping up and down at the very concept.)
So who are our minds and hearts spending time with when we can’t be as present with our people as we’re used to? Scripture tells us that we do have some control over this. Although I can’t control what ads come across my TV or social media, I can control how much time I spend on those devices. Although I can’t control what things pop into my mind uninvited, Paul says that I can control how I respond when that happens. When an unwelcome seed of fear crosses my mind, he says that I can take that thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). We for sure can’t do that in our own strength, but we can do it through the power of Jesus over fear. How though? How can I take a thought captive – keep my mind from running wild with whatever comes across it? How can I make my thoughts obedient to Christ – think like Jesus thinks? Three things have been on my heart to help with this enormous challenge during a time when most inputs in our lives are fear-based, stressful, or alarming.
First, just like on your TV or whatever device, you control your inputs, at least to some extent. Hosanna Wong describes it like a soundboard. You have the power to turn up some things, and turn down others. How loud is the voice of hysteria-driven social media in your ear right now? How loud is the news? How loud is your alarmist friend, coworker, or family member? It may not be realistic to turn those all the way off. After all, it is important to be informed – to an extent. But maybe it’s time to turn those down. The less negative thoughts we need to “take captive,” the more we set ourselves up for health and victory. For me these next two weeks, for example, this looks like less social media scrolling and a TV fast. What do you need to turn down?
Second, if we turn some feeds down, what can we turn up? Jesus, in his toughest moments, can be found quoting Scripture. If I am going to make my thoughts obedient to Christ, if I want to think like Jesus, I need to know what thoughts Christ has. In our toughest moments, we too need Scripture-saturated minds. I don’t know about you, but five minutes of reading a verse of the day isn’t enough to battle the negative thoughts that cross my mind throughout the day, because people, I have A LOT. I need a mind so drenched in the Word that when something comes up, as it inevitably will, the words of Jesus are the very first thing that comes to my mind. I need the Word to battle every angle the enemy throws at my mind. And I can only hope to have that if I am spending more time in the Word than I am in the less life-giving feeds in my life. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense. I mean literally looking at how many hours I spend with positive input, such as Scripture (most important!), Jesus-centered podcasts, worship music, Christian books, etc. Then I compare that to inputs that are downright negative or just things that don’t give life. Like, I love TV, but it’s not giving me life during this time of emotional testing, so for me it’s time for a break so I can fill those hours with the Lord’s voice instead. My TV isn’t evil, but my mind is a real project, and I need all the advantage I can scrape up. So what should you turn up these next few weeks? And how can you practically do that? If you’re not sure if an input is giving you life, just ask the Lord; he’ll make it clear. Then say okay and actually do it.
Third, we need to pray, like all the time. When we aren’t getting the input from others that we’re used to because of social distancing, something will fill the silence. Choose Jesus as your companion during the loneliness, because I guarantee if you don’t choose to actively talk to the Lord, the enemy’s voice will start whispering. Jesus, God himself, prayed often to his Father, because he knew where his strength was rooted. And the gospel writers don’t even talk about Jesus’ internal dialogue. If I had to guess, I think it’s safe to assume he was in dialogue with the Father constantly. Jesus withdrew to these lonely places to pray, and so when we find ourselves in these lonely places, let’s use this time to talk to God more than we ever have before. I totally agree that this can be hard work, but I think it’s work that is completely worth it, both in this stressful time and also just always.
We have a choice. We can use this time to cower; that’s definitely what the enemy wants. He’s working all the angles right now to make you afraid. Or we can use this time to draw close to our Father and talk to him. Ask what he’s doing right now, and how can you join him. I am confident he has an answer, because he’s always working, we’re just often too busy or distracted to join him. I know that’s true for me, at least.
No, it’s not good for man to be alone. But for those of us that are physically alone often these days, that’s just the reality right now. It’s not forever, and Jesus showed us that solitude is good and necessary to draw closer to the Father. This time can be a time of spiritual renewal and revival, or we can spend the next two weeks cowering in fear. It is up to us whether we spend this time of isolation with the many-masked voices of the enemy, or with Jesus. Friends, let’s choose what is better. •