On a Saturday not too long ago, I was having a super alone kind of day, and I needed to make a grocery store run. A reason to get out of the house, right? I tied my hair into a side braid, threw on a Notre Dame hat, and drove the 90-second route to the store. As I walked through the doors, seeing some of the first people I’d encountered all day, I almost audibly groaned.
Think I can weave my way through the aisles without making eye contact with anyone? I challenged myself, pulling my hat further over my eyes.
But alas, I live in the South now, and every grocery store employee politely says hello and asks how I’m doing.
“Hi, I’m good,” I reply with a super-sweet tone to mask my anxiety.
I feel uncomfortable in my own skin as I select Fuji apples and pick up a carton of cold brew coffee.
Why do I feel like an awkward outcast right now? It’s the grocery store.
Because along with my hat, I also wore a label I was sure was stamped across my forehead: Lonely.
Isn’t that counterintuitive? I’m lonely, so why wouldn’t I want to strike up a conversation with the man restocking egg cartons?
The thing is, I desperately wanted to hide, to place my groceries in the green basket while remaining undetected, because I had fallen—hook, line, and sinker—into one of the enemy’s traps.
I was isolated, and I was choosing to stay in hiding. On the outside I wore a mask that said everything was fine, but on the inside my insecurities were yelling to everyone, “Get back, and just stay away.”
Isolation Isn’t a Safe Space
In a previous post, I described the gift and opportunity of loneliness: If we seek God’s perspective, a season of loneliness can be precious, though difficult. But what if we miss God’s perspective? What happens when we wallow in our loneliness? We become isolated targets.
In Erin Davis’ book Connected, she paints a vivid picture of a pride of lions hunting a herd of antelope. The goal? To ambush the herd and find one antelope that became separated from the others in the chaos. It’s exactly what Satan does to us, Erin explains. If he can isolate an unguarded and lonely person, like an unsuspecting antelope, he can trap us in lies, sin, and shame.
The big idea behind the enemy’s strategy? Sin and shame flourish in isolation.
Erin describes this concept so well:
When we step outside of community, we become infinitely more susceptible to temptation and sin. In this way, loneliness is less of an emotion, and more of a military strategy, effectively used by our Enemy. Then, our shame lies to us and tells us that isolation is the only way to regain control. In this way, loneliness and shame become a two-edged sword that is very effective at taking us out at the knees (p. 60).
If we would draw out the progression, we’d see that sin leads us into isolation. And sin breeds shame, and shame breeds in isolation. It’s an infinite loop of sin, isolation, shame that repeats until we ask the power of God to step in.
I wasn’t lonely and isolated because of a sin I was hiding. I’m navigating a season of loneliness simply due to a transition time in my life (new wife who moved 600 miles away from family and works from home, party of one!). But the enemy still sees this as an opportunity to strike, and I’m finally understanding why I’ve gone into hiding for such an extended time.
I don’t know where this post finds you today. Maybe you’re just feeling a little lonely these days. Maybe you can remember a time when sin and shame kept you isolated. Or you’re realizing that’s where you are right now. You’re seeing the threads of shame intertwined with isolation beginning to unravel. Let’s keep pulling at those strings.
There’s a way out of that infinite loop, and I think Lysa TerKeurst says it well in her book Uninvited:
Since Satan’s goal is to separate us from the Lord, this is exactly where He wants us to stay. But the minute we turn to His Word is the minute the gap between us and God is closed. He is always near. His Word is full and fully able to reach those deep places inside us desperate for truth (p. 155).
Come Out of Hiding
The enemy will use a variety of lies to keep us enslaved to shame in hiding. It could be any version of thoughts like:
- I can’t believe I’m struggling with this. There’s no one I can tell.
- No one would understand what I’m going through.
- I’m so lonely; no one will want to be my friend.
- I’m a mess; there’s no way anyone will want to hear about all my baggage, much less carry it with me.
On that Saturday in the grocery store, I listened to the voice that said I should keep hiding, and even though I knew it was irrational, the fear of connecting with anyone at all felt too overwhelming.
But God calls us out of hiding.
He calls us to leave our hidden places of shame and to answer His invitation to intimacy with Himself.
I recently heard Jefferson Bethke describe this truth at a conference, and it struck the rawest part of my heart. He said that any time we hear a voice saying, “Stay hidden; withdraw more,” we can know it’s the enemy’s voice. Our heavenly Father pursues us, calling us out by name to walk closer with Him.
Consider God’s reaction to Adam and Eve, after they committed the first sin and hid themselves in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). He asks, “Where are you?” Now, He’s God, He knows their physical location. This question was an invitation. An invitation to confess, to come out of isolation, out of hiding, and to be truly known and seen.
God never desires for you, His child, to hide from Him or from others. He offers a constant invitation to draw near to Him. James 4:8 prescribes the pattern: 1) Come out of hiding; 2) Confess, repent, and live for God.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Even if you feel so broken and damaged that you have to crawl out of your hiding place, God’s grace is greater. His arms are wide open, and He’ll scoop you up in mercy.
Once we’ve come out of hiding before God, how do we leave isolation for real connection with people?
Shake Off the Fear of Vulnerability
To break free from isolation, we have to face the reality of real connection. Connection means being truly known, and being truly known means vulnerability. And the fear of vulnerability is one big reason we stayed isolated in the first place. It’s another infinite loop at work. What can pull us off that spinning track?
By remembering that the fear of being known derives from the enemy; that everyone else carries around messes and baggage, just like we do; that doing life together connected is always better than going it alone.
Erin hits the nail on the head here. Take a look at one more excerpt from Connected:
If you’re going to get connected, you’re going to have to make peace with messy relationships. You’re going to have to be okay with letting others in when you are at your worst and your life is a total train wreck. You also must be willing to turn the tables. When other people’s lives are messy, you can’t turn a blind eye or offer cheap words of comfort. You must willingly walk into the mess, even if they’re hiding, and bear the bad stuff together (p. 78).
Getting vulnerable, getting real, getting connected pulls us out of the dangerous position of isolation. It hangs up a safety net that keeps us from retreating into hiding. It might look a little bit like this:
- Sharing your struggles with a youth leader at your church.
- Telling your parents what’s really going on in your world.
- Texting a godly friend when you’re lonely; she’ll be there to pray for you and be an encouragement.
- Taking the brave step of asking an godly older woman at church to become your mentor.
- Starting an accountability group with your friends—you pray together and share Scripture on a regular basis.
- Journaling prayers to God.
- Becoming an active member in your youth group; you aren’t faking it, but genuinely participating and loving others.
- Growing in a love for the Word; it reminds you that you’re truly known by the Father, and it teaches you more and more about Him.
- Digging into more resources about loneliness, isolation, and connection.
Take a look at your heart. Is it lonely? Have you gone into hiding? Do you fear being known? Has a secret sin taken over? Will you look someone into the eyes and tell them today?
The next time I run to the grocery store, I’ll probably wear my Notre Dame hat again, but I’m getting rid of that lonely label—and I’m going to walk those aisles without the fear of being seen or known. Join me in leaving isolation for something so much better?
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Photo credit: Death to the Stock Photo