The Perils of Isolation

Article by: Bridgehaven Team

Counselors Reflect on Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp
A Series to Care for the Care Takers of God’s People


“First, when people are your substitute messiah (you need their respect and support in order to continue), it’s hard to be honest with them about your sins, weaknesses, and failures.  There is a second thing that kicks in as well:  fear.” p. 38.

I remember seeing a special documentary on TV about a man who began training and preparation for an experiment in isolation.  His goal was to be dropped into the Alaskan wilderness where he would live by a lake, and his goal was to explore how long he could remain by himself.  Alone.  Armed with supplies, a journal and a video camera he eagerly began the experiment.  After months of physical, psychological, and wilderness training the day arrived for his “alone time” to begin.  It was a hopeful, sunny summer day in the awe inspiring Alaska wilderness when he was dropped off for the lesson of a life time.  One he would never forget.

On one level it sounds like a dream to some people. The thought of losing the constant chaos of demands, people, phone calls, bills to and responsibilities.  No clocks to watch, no people to answer to, no meetings to attend, and no traffic to be snarled mindlessly in.  On a busy day it sounds especially attractive.

But on the other hand, it’s not a very smart experiment and, honestly, it’s very predictable.

It wasn’t very long before the man transformed into a weepy, lonely, confused and very fearful person.  He kept a video record and it was honestly one of the most painful and sad journals I’ve ever seen.  He ultimately realized that isolation is a deadly thing.  He raised the surrender flag long before he thought he would and got on his satellite phone calling for a pick up.  It seems that until the moment when he realized he was headed back to civilization (and people), he had lost hope and spent much time weeping.  When he made the call, his sense of purpose returned.  Except the tears of joy he felt when he spotted the rescue plane, the tears came to a end.

Perhaps at some point many of us have had those moments of clarity as we look around at the people who are in our lives.  On bad days they’re an annoyance, on good days they’re necessary, and on great days they’re a joy.  But the absence of people leaves a void, which creates a deadly silence.

Pastors and Christian workers can, and do, live perilously close to this same edge.  One sign of a pastor or Christian worker losing his way is when he begins to live in silence.  This is someone who has drifted to such an extent that they begin to believe that living silently seems the only way (or the best way) to survive.  Too much honesty and authenticity may, they think, be the death of their ministry, livelihood or calling.

Paul Tripp says that when you need the respect and support of people to continue on, it becomes difficult to be honest about the struggles in your heart (your sins, weaknesses and failures).  Secondly, with this need, we begin to be ruled more by fear.  As our personal lives become more distant from our public persona then the fear of being “found out” becomes overwhelming.  Then the fear we might feel will fuel how we respond to concerns and questions from others.  Therefore we find it impossible to be honest about our struggles and we become distant and isolated from the very group of people God wants to use to drive the idols from our heart.  As we continue in out denial these idols and fears are driven and more deeply imbedded in our heart.

Silence drives us away from what we need and we are forced to live in isolation.  That’s when the silence becomes deafening and places us on an unhealthy and downward trajectory.  But, we too have a satellite phone and it is imperative that we use it.

As pastors and leaders, we must turn from our inward, self-preserving thinking and move toward trusting and repenting before God. We need others.  We need authenticity.  We need Christ.  We must end our silence.

“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  Proverbs 27:17


535826: Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral MinistryDangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry By Paul David Tripp / Crossway Books & Bibles