God designed us for social interaction. Some of us might think we’re loners, but if you’ve watched any of the “Alone” television series, you have to admit that even the most independent of souls suffer when isolated. When God created Adam, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
Social distancing is a temporary strategy for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. And beyond its intended purpose, some other good things have come about due to social distancing and sheltering in place. Families who live under the same roof are spending more time with each other talking, playing games, and walking and hiking together. I’ve heard more than one person predict a baby boom in nine months due to the sheltering-in-place order!
But not everyone is experiencing the positive side of social distancing and sheltering in place. Ripped from normal interactions at work, the gym, church, school, coffee shops, restaurants, and a myriad of other social gatherings, some are in danger of slipping from distancing into isolation.
Social isolation has detrimental physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual effects. Some of these include stress, melancholy, depression, worry, anxiety, loneliness, substance abuse, pornography, eating disorders, and other self-destructive behaviors.
Nobody is immune from the ill-effects of isolation. Even the great prophet Elijah succumbed to its dark pull. In a spectacular demonstration of God’s power, Elijah had just bested 450 prophets of Baal. But immediately following this spiritual and emotional high, the wicked queen Jezebel swore to kill Elijah.
What did Elijah do? He was afraid and ran for his life. Then, he left his servant along the way and continued running alone (1 Kings 19:3). He isolated himself. He became so depressed that he asked the Lord to take his life. Apparently, he wasn’t eating because the Lord had to provide for him and urge him to eat.
This pattern of isolation went on for at least forty days. In verse 9 of that chapter, we find Elijah in a cave. Like a wounded animal, Elijah has dragged himself off to die alone and rejected. The Lord compassionately asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” From what Elijah tells the Lord, we surmise that he was moping. He was throwing a pity party. Basically, he told God, “Everyone else has forsaken You, except me. I’m the only faithful one in Israel, and now they’re trying to kill me.”
Lovingly, the Lord demonstrated His presence with Elijah. Then, God gave him a series of tasks that all had to do with people, taking him out of his isolation. Then the Lord said, “By the way, you’re not the only faithful one in Israel. I have seven thousand others in Israel who are still faithful to Me. So, you’re not alone after all.” (vs. 18)
But let’s not be too hard on Elijah. If we’re honest, we can probably all intimately identify with what Elijah was feeling. In such circumstances, isolation is like a drug. We know it is self-destructive, but we yield to it because we feel so beaten down.
7 Strategies for Resisting the Pull of Isolation
- Stay connected with people every day. Call someone you know simply to chat and stay in touch. Reach out to distant friends you haven’t heard from in a while and catch up.
- If possible, get outside into the fresh air every day. Go for a walk or a hike. Get some exercise.
- When you go shopping, observe precautions, but go out of your way to interact with people safely.
- Limit the amount of news you watch or listen to. The media thrives on sensationalism and being bombarded with it can be discouraging and depressing.
- Spend time with those in your household: pray together, read the Word, sing together, play games, make love with your spouse, go for walks or drives together.
- Order takeout from a local restaurant to support them during this lean financial time and make a point to interact with them.
- Meet regularly with a spiritual partner via phone or some other technology. Share your joys and challenges with each other and pray for each other.
And you probably know some additional ways to resist the pull of isolation.
Those who live alone may be most vulnerable to isolation during this time, so remember to connect with them and offer encouragement and help.
“Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18