Our Yorkshire Terrier, Rocky, was 15 years old and blind when he started looking for his place to die. Animal instincts kick in when they suspect death is near. They will often search for a quiet and isolated place to lie down and stop breathing.
Rocky searched in corners of the living room and bedrooms, pacing back and forth. We took him to the vet, who simply told us, “Take him home. There’s really nothing we can do.”
Then one terrible morning, we found Rocky underneath my son’s bed, cold and stiff. Our sweet little Yorkie was dead.
Like animals when they are terminally ill, we may be tempted to act the same way when we are emotionally or spiritually ill.
When we’re hurting, when we’re going through a spiritual struggle, when we don’t know if we can trust others with the terrible truth about our needs: these are times we tend to isolate.
Yet this is when we most need each other; when we don’t understand what God is doing. We need the support and wisdom of others when we’re asking “Why?” and don’t hear any divine answers, when we grieve and feel alone in the despair of loss.
Especially when we’re spiritually ill, we need people with whom we can be real – people who know our deepest secrets and won’t condemn us.
These are the folks who will help us find hope. These are the people who will help us search for scriptures to encourage us, make us a meal, take us out for a Coke or just give us a hug.
Even Jesus knew he needed friends on his most difficult night. Just before his arrest, while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he told his disciples, “Sit here [with me] while I pray…stay here and keep watch” (Mark 14:32-34 NIV). He didn’t isolate himself. He wanted his closest followers to remain with him. He knew he needed them.
The Apostle Paul also felt the need for people around him, and he wanted the early Christians to learn this important lesson. He reminded the church in Thessalonica to “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess 5:11 NIV).
Paul knew that we need others to help us through the hard times, to encourage us, to lift us and build our confidence – especially when we feel like isolating.
Just like our dog, Rocky, I am tempted to isolate, especially when I’m in pain, or experience the near-death of a relationship.
When someone hurts my feelings, I want to shut down, leave the room and vow to never, ever speak to that person again this side of heaven. Forever and ever. Amen.
But when I’m hiding in my hermitage cave, that’s when resentment grows and I can easily move into unforgiveness. My desire for communication stiffens and friendships die.
Sometimes my isolation grows more determined and I back out of activities I once loved.
Instead of letting myself isolate, it’s so much better for my soul if I stay connected, confront the hurt and authentically face the person who has injured me. When I honestly admit my pain, I move more easily toward forgiveness. If I do that, both of us have a chance to grow and trust can be restored.
We need each other. We need connections, relationships and the trust of spiritual family members.
When we avoid isolation and stay connected to each other, we become stronger. We’re better together and as Jesus pointed out, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20 NIV).