Isolation is an enemy that causes a great amount of pain. It places us in a box, often of our own choosing, and yields few ways out. At times in my life, I have known periods of isolation. I hope I never live in it again. This is different from the need for solitude, that discipline of withdrawing from the crowd to be able to re-charge or simply have space to think and listen afresh. As has often been said, isolation can be felt when you are in a great amount of people and activity. Isolation and loneliness go hand in hand, that feeling that there is no one else in the world that knows the pain or struggles you do.
I know the need in my life to stay away from isolation, so when I saw this sign in a window in England last week, I took note. It read Never Train Alone. Advertising a local exercise place, it gives an important truth to remember. Though I would qualify the phrase Never, as there are times when in solitude we do practice habits of training in many spheres of life, the words when taken together encourage us to seek out others to help and join us. In my last post, Going to our ‘unsafe places’ can create safe zones for others, I talked of the needed but frightening journey to go deeper into places in our lives that seem ‘unsafe’.
This journey into greater depth in our lives is wisely done in the presence of others, as it requires habits of trust that train us to believe that there is hope even in the greatest darkness. None of us are wise enough, experienced enough, or anything enough to be able to do it alone. We all face seasons in life when disappointment and discouragement seem to be our closest friends. In one of the Psalms in the Old Testament, 88, the writer in verse 18 says that ‘the darkness is my closest friend.’ To pen those words shows a life of intense discouragement where it seems like there is no hope and no answers.
So much of life consists of learning and practicing habits and disciplines even when we don’t want to or feel unable to. Sowing habits of kindness towards people we struggle with. Learning the discipline of gentleness when we are challenged by someone we work with. Turning our faces to God when it seems there is only emptiness and dryness. But as we practice these things, as we train ourselves every day, we need people that will journey with us. Maybe not lots of people, but certainly a few.
Yes, it is possible to train alone, to learn new habits and disciplines without the help of someone else. So I do disagree with the absoluteness of the sign in the window. Yet the sign also speaks a vital truth, that we ignore at our peril. We do need friends that will help hold us accountable to live lives of justice, kindness and mercy. When they see us straying from these values or from core commitments and relationships in our lives, they will speak up and say something. It is so deeply isolating to know that we have shut anyone like that out from our lives.
Who are those people in your life? Who do you ‘train’ with? Who do you ‘do life’ with?