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The Dangers of Isolation

By Dr. Peggy J. Wobbema

Dr. Peggy J. Wobbema is currently a staff chaplain at Cox Health Systems. She also serves as pastor of Ozark Prairie Presbyterian Church in Mt. Vernon, Missouri.

There is a false impression that isolation is the safest place to heal one’s life wounds.

In 1624, a prominent Anglican priest and poet, John Donne, wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." In this famous passage, he affirms that no person can exist on his or her own, isolated from the rest. There are truly no human islands. Yet, because of life circumstances, the illusion of finding a kind of safety in isolation often appeals to the hurting. There is a false impression that isolation is the safest place to heal one's life wounds. This is especially dangerous for the minister of God who can encounter several dangers of isolation.

Lack of Accountability

First, isolation promotes a lack of accountability. When a minister struggles with a problem, no matter its definition, he or she is attracted by the thought of not having to admit a lack of strength, wisdom, or of having a fault. It seems easier to slip into labeling isolation as a time to pray and seek God for an answer (which does have its rightful place) instead of seeking a trusted friend or mentor to join in prayer and the provision of godly counsel. There is a higher degree of vulnerability in being accountable to another.

Self- Pity

Self-pity is a friend of isolation. The attraction falls into the category of desiring to, like a small child, "do it all by myself." This dangerous attitude leads the minister to believe the lie that he or she can make it alone - that nobody else really cares and that they are the only one who has ever struggled with such trouble. This belief gives permission to think it is better to just resolve the issue with one's own wisdom and understanding. The results of self-pity are often a lack of self-awareness, an inability to see the whole picture, and the promotion of pride.

Lack of Support

Friends make a difference in times of trouble.

Another difficulty with isolation is that when there are times when it is not desired, one does not know where to turn for support when it's needed. The energy to fight seclusion is depleted by the daily demands of ministry. Weariness becomes the enemy of desired fellowship. It takes work to develop relationships that promote interconnectedness. Friends make a difference in times of trouble. It is vital to work at creating a network of relationships. A person who chooses to isolate is prey to being overrun, but one can make it if someone comes along side to support. Ecclesiastes 4:9,10 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up" (NIV). Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise," encouraging the need for supportive, healthy relationships.

Fear of Rejection

Everyone needs the discipline of setting time aside to rest, to regroup, to meditate, and seek God for strength and direction. Without retreat, the minister of God will face defeat. Yet, there are times when the lure of isolating oneself from others is promoted by fear of being known and potentially rejected. These are the emotions that must be resisted.

Scripture promotes interconnectedness when facing troubles in life.

"Is anyone of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:13-16, NIV).

Isolation brings with it a red flag warning. It warns the minister of God that when the strong winds of adversity blow, it is vital to have a harbor of safety where friends at varying degrees of relationship are available for care and support. Without a network of caring individuals, isolation lures the hurting, resulting in further pain instead of healing for the weary or wounded soul.