Monday, June 1, 2009

Isolation is Behind the Tree

We’ve been going through this teaching series about going through spiritual funks or low moments at our church recently. I think it is important for us all to realize that low moments are natural and necessary. It is how we react or respond in these low periods or funks that is important. A common reaction to these funks is isolation. So here’s the simple idea, in one sentence:

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Before I go any further let’s get our definitions right so we can understand each other. Isolation and seclusion are synonymous for my purposes. There is a difference between isolating or secluding yourself and just spending time alone for the sake of focusing or building up. Jesus taught and practiced separating yourself from the business of stuff to get with God. In Matthew 6 He is teaching His disciples to pray and says, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6, TNIV).” In Matthew 26, before He was arrested, Jesus separated Himself to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was all about getting in some quality or quiet time with God. There is a difference between that and isolation. The kind of separation and focus oriented parting He was practicing and teaching was to build up the individual and draw closer to God. The isolation and seclusion I am dealing with does the opposite and actually will separate us further from God.

Brokenness is a very broad term that can look like anything from as general as being a person who sins to as specific as hating your parents. The brokenness that man does not want to face may look very different and is very individualistic, but, nonetheless, is brokenness.

I wish I had some new thoughts, like this was some new revelation God is showing me, but the reality is that this separation, isolation, or seclusion from God is a bad habit we, humans, have and continue to repeat. We put ourselves through this vicious cycle of separation from God. It started in the beginning and continues today. Turn to Genesis Ch 3. God created man and saw that it was not good for him to be alone so he created a wife for Him. The three of them lived in this beautiful community of mutual love without sin. Deception happens and man falls away from God and this community. It is hard for me to comprehend what it would be like to hear God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, but that is exactly what Adam heard. When Adam heard this he hid from God. Genesis 3:8, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. That word in Hebrew is chaba and means to withdraw from or draw back. So after Adam sinned he withdrew from God. In addition to withdrawing from God he also hid himself from his wife. They covered themselves from one another. This is the first separation we see between God, man, and the idea of community. This is where isolation and seclusion are born.
Why though? Why did Adam and his wife hid themselves? Pay attention to the conversation that happens between God and Adam now. Genesis 3:9-13, “But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Did you notice how Adam avoided just answering the question with a yes or no? Adam blamed Eve and then further implied it was God’s fault because He gave the woman to him. Eve then blamed the serpent. No one takes ownership, no one faces or accepts what they need to, they messed up, they sinned, they are now broken.
The hardest thing for me is to admit I am wrong. I like to be right. Isn’t it hard to admit that you hurt someone or that you messed up somewhere? Man from the beginning has had trouble with admitting he is wrong, taking responsibility that he is broken. So instead of admitting our wrong we invent ways of helping ourselves feel better, ways of making ourselves feel like we can do it, like we can get better or earn our ways back to being unbroken. We were created to be in perfect community with God and now w are not, this feels unnatural to us at our very core, so we naturally don’t like it and want to rely on ourselves to come up with ways to fix it. If we fix it then we can say we didn’t need God and ultimately are not that bad after all. We don’t like relying on God because that means we are not in control.
Here are a couple of examples of man making up ways or exhibiting his need to control and come up with ways on his own in order to avoid facing the fact that he is broken. Man simply never wants to rely on God. We’ve tried to build ourselves up to heaven. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:4)." We just don’t want to rely on God for anything, we want to do it all ourselves. The entire time in the wilderness after they were freed from the Egyptian slavery they complained about wanting to go back. They actually say as they are wandering in the wilderness, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt (Exodus 16:3).” In Chapter 17 verse 3 the people ask Moses, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and live stock die of thirst?” We’d rather go back to slavery then have to depend on God. God separates us as His special people and we don’t want that, we want to do it ourselves so we ask for a king. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles (1 Samuel 8:19)." This is our history, this is our heritage, this is who we are. We do not want to depend on God. To depend on something means to acknowledge your own need. Man does not want to acknowledge his need because it would reveal his brokenness.
A man after God’s own heart was…most people will say David. Why? What made David different? David was just as broken as any of us here today, he actually may have done more screwed up things than any of us have actually done though. I think what made David such a man after God’s heart was that he was so open and honest with God about what he was going through or feeling, even if it wasn’t exactly comfortable. David openly admitted his brokenness. Take the next couple of minutes to open your Bibles to Psalm 51, 86, and 88. These Psalms all are open admissions of brokenness. Why do we feel like we can hide from God. God is all seeing and all knowing. Seems comical for a man to hide behind a tree from a God who sees everything right? Why do we think we can hide our thoughts or inner emotions from God then? It is less pleasing to God to not tell Him what you are honestly going through, admitting your brokenness, than any religious prayer with all the right words in it could ever be. We need to get comfortable with admitting openly that we are broken to God, He knows anyway, why try to hide. Don’t be that guy behind the tree, He sees you!

Why do we isolate ourselves from people then? Think about some people in your life right now that have at some point or another withdrawn form you, isolated themselves from you. The reason we isolate ourselves from people is because we don’t want to hear what they have to say. Within the church especially we do this because we don’t want to surround ourselves with people who will call things out in us because we don’t want to actually deal with it because we don’t want to admit our brokenness. It makes perfect sense then if I am tired of math that I will not go near a math teacher because all he is going to talk about is math. If I have something going on that I have not dealt with God about then I will not want to be around people who represent or follow Him because they will speak and act like Him.

Remember that community that we were created in back in Genesis? God’s plan is to redeem His creation. Sin messed everything up so God has been working from the beginning on fixing it for us because we can’t. God fixed the sin problem by allowing Jesus to die for our sins and conquer death. So now times have changed a bit and we no longer have a perfect garden and cannot be in the presence of God because He sent Jesus. Jesus is back in heaven preparing us our place so He left the Holy Spirit with us. The Holy Spirit empowered us to start the church, the community of faith that is Christ’s body. So now that community we once had with God has taken the form of the church. We are now to experience and be with God through the church, through His people. So when we withdraw or isolate from His people, it is His church that we withdraw from. Paul describes the church as a body. 1 Corinthians 12: 1-27 (page 1020) If I were to rip my heart out of my chest my body would die. If I were to take any organ out of my body, my entire body would be affected. Think about something as simple as an ear piercing. I got my ears plugged a couple weeks ago and my body has been trying to heal the wounds since. My entire body is affected by this piercing. If this is the body and medically it operates this way and Paul used the body as a parallel to the church, wouldn’t it make sense that if one part of this body is missing because we are isolated that the entire body would be affected?

There is this movie called Cheaper by the Dozen that came out several years ago and it has a corky little scene in it that makes me think about what it looks like for a member of the body to seclude themselves. So this kid’s frog dies. He feels like it is insignificant and that no one cares so he runs away sad and lonely. He thinks no one cares, no one notices. Well, the entire family does notice and they go on an all out dramatic search for their missing member. They find him and let him know he is missed and is important and that what he is going through is important to them. They have this funeral and everything for the frog. We do the same thing don’t we? We find ourselves covered from each other, hiding behind a tree from God, from each other.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

Man isolates because he does not want to realize/face his brokenness.

What is it you are avoiding, what brokenness do you not want to face? God is looking for you, He can see behind the tree, your family, the church, notices your isolation, they miss you. What is it you need to face? Jesus is the catalyst to bring change, to break the cycle of brokenness. We no longer have to rely on ourselves, we don’t have to repeat the cycle of seclusion and doing it yourself that our ancestors did. We can break the cycle of hiding from God.


  1. I've *finally* posted a response to this - I appreciate your thoughts and the way you're sharing what God's put on your heart. While I don't disagree at all with the sentiments of your message, I confess that while you spoke my mind was thinking about something else (though still related!).

    Here's an excerpt of the response on my blog:

    "Sometimes, the church isolates because it does not want to realize/face it's brokenness."

    A common experience that I've seen many times is a church that doesn't agree with what's happening with a group/individual and the response is to isolate the problem... until it hopefully disappears. Too often I've had others share their convictions with me as though I'm supposed to be convicted in the same way.

    See... I'm still reading! ;-)

    Peace of Christ,

  2. I think you imply a ton in your response that I'd say you should talk to those you feel that way about.