Before you begin to read this, let me be clear that I am, in no way, devaluing the importance of community. Fellowship is vital in producing encouragement, growth, and accountability. However, over the past three months I have been separated from community. I wish to speak about what God has taught me through this season of isolation in hopes that He may use these words to spur on endurance for those of you who are also in isolation and to be used as a reminder for those of you who will experience isolation in the future. My prayer is that isolation not be a shadow on your life but, instead, a glorious light, displayed to show the world who you belong to.
I have always placed community as a priority in my life, whether that be through extracurricular activities at my university, my friendships, volunteerism, or church. I have been intentional about maintaining relationships and commitment to groups in the midst of busy schedules and the temptation to utilize that extra time for study or work. Although, at the beginning of this semester, my last semester, I discovered that my community was going to have to be sacrificed for this season. As a second semester senior nursing student you have 6 hours of class, for which you are expected to study 20 to 28 hours a week. In addition to that, you will have clinical rotations that fluctuate from 24 to 38 hours a week. Most students in this program also have part time jobs to help make ends meet. I am no exception to that, and have secured three different part time jobs to help pay for my basic needs like food, gas, and a place to live. Combined, I put in 20 hours of work each week at my different jobs. On an average week with this schedule my peers and I will put in 84 hours of work without weekends. This leaves 84 hours for sleep, eating, transportation, and basic hygiene, not to mention applying and interviewing for jobs and filling out forms to graduate. I share this, not to complain, but to paint a picture of why my isolation occurred. I found that my busy schedule overlapped the meeting times of groups I had been involved with. Since we all have different clinical rotations, I found that I could no longer be with my friends because our schedules were opposite most of the week. For a month and a half, I found that I was also cut off from my church community because my clinical rotation was on Sunday. If the rare opportunity came around where I actually could participate in a social event, I was to exhausted to hold a conversation. The priority of community fell to the sideline of the priority to do what needs to be done to graduate.
I learned to plan ahead but not think about tomorrow until it became today. Living one day, one hour, one minute at a time became a necessity. Slowly, week by week, new connections began to form and I found myself growing exponentially in my nursing skills. However, the hard work came with late nights and early mornings. I also was growing more and more tired. I began to see what my different communities were doing while I wasn’t there. God was using them in mighty ways, but I couldn’t be a part of it. I didn’t feel lonely just separated. I wondered why, in order to follow the call to which God had called me, I had to be separated from what He was doing in the communities where He had placed me. I missed the comfort of having tangible support and spiritual accountability. I started to loose ground in my time with God because I was too tired to focus with Him, but I held fast to the lessons He was teaching me through the work. I never doubted that He was working in my life, even though most of my days were spent alone and I could no longer serve others like I had in previous months.
Finally, this past week there was a lull in the schedule. For the first time in two and a half months, I was able to take to different days to rest and spend time with my people. But it wasn’t enough. The rest didn’t rejuvenate me and I was still left mentally and physically exhausted with another mountain of work ahead. I was still isolated. I had no one to really turn to except for the Lord. My quiet times for the past week were filled with desperate prayers for focus, motivation, and rest. The exhaustion was not new, but the inability to get rid of it with rest was uncomfortable. I felt guilt feeling this way when some of my peers have been getting through this with heavier work schedules, a new baby, or grief in the recent loss of a loved one. I was so tired, I couldn’t reach out to encourage them. I was so tired, I lost connection with what was going on with those around me. I have been living in a bubble, so focused on the goal that anything outside has become irrelevant. I began to wonder if I was wrong in allowing myself to be separated. I don’t know how I could have done it differently, but I have been someone who I don’t want to be: unintentional, detached, distracted from relationship, focused on self.
I know I don’t want to be this, but I have spent every ounce of energy I have in getting through the work to make it to this point. Any energy I have left must be put towards finishing the work. So I got on my knees and asked God to fill the gap. I asked Him to meet me where I am because I can’t move. I asked Him to be the community I’ve lost for this season. I asked that He restore my strength. I continued to ask Him this for days and began to listen for His response.
I decided to start reading Jesus Calling again because I have lost the habit of reading the Bible, and, if I’m being perfectly honest, the thought of re-estabilishing that routine is exhausting. But, hey, that’s why I’ve been praying the prayer I prayed. The entry for today, March 21, was this:
“Trust Me and Don’t be Afraid, for I am your strength and song. Think what it means to have me as your Strength. I spoke the universe into existence; My Power is absolutely unlimited! Human weakness, consecrated to Me, is like a magnet, drawing My Power into your neediness. However, fear can block the flow of My Strength into you. Instead of trying to fight your fears, concentrate on trusting Me. When you relate to Me in confident trust, there is no limit to how much I can strengthen you.
Remember that I am also your Song. I want you to share My Joy, living in conscious awareness of My Presence. Rejoice as we journey together toward heaven; join me in signing My Song.”
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
Later this after noon, my friend Joanne and I read a news letter for Christ is Life Ministry run by Bill and Paige Loveless. In the news letter, Paige quoted Catherine Marshall, when she is talking about dry periods in her life. Catherine Marshall said this:
“The state is always much the same for me: shriveled and lonely on the inside… just going through the motions of life and worst of all, feeling shut off from God. The way out of this latest episode began with an admission of my helplessness – not just grudging acknowledgement but a trusting and expectant acceptance, relying on Jesus’ promise that His strength is made perfect in my weakness. Next, I actually thanked God for it. My praise to Him lacked enthusiasm at first. Gradually my cup began to fill and my soul to loosen. The last step was to express love to someone and in this case it was ti visit a bed-bound neighbor. It takes acceptance and praise and outgoing love for me to emerge from a dry period, but oh the exhilaration that follows!”
Evening came and I sat down to study for the big exam this coming Monday. As I reflected on what I had read before focusing in, God called me to go on a walk with Him. It was a comfortable evening and the sun was just about to set, so throwing on my sneakers and walking out the door to get some fresh air was a welcome break. As I strolled down the streets, lined with perfectly landscaped lawns in front of beautifully designed homes, God began to whisper to me. I find that He always seems to whisper gently when He talks to me, but His whisper often shakes my world like the rumbles of an earthquake.
YOU ARE MINE.YOU ARE MY TREASURE AND MY JOY. I, ALONE, HAVE BEEN WITH YOU EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY. I, ALONE, HAVE LOVED YOU WITH A LOVE THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED, EXACTLY WHEN YOU NEED IT. I AM ENOUGH FOR YOU. I AM THE LOVER OF YOUR SOUL, THE ONE WHO IS MORE INTIMATE WITH YOU THAN ANY MORTAL MAN COULD EVER BE. IT IS I, WHO SITS ON THE THRONE IN THE CASTLE OF YOUR HEART. DO NOT BE DISMAYED, FOR I AM ALWAYS IN COMMUNION WITH YOU. YOUR STRENGTH COMES FROM ME. YOUR HELP COMES FROM ME. DO NOT DOUBT THE PASION OF OUR RELATIONSHIP IN THE ABSENCE OF OTHERS. I AM ALWAYS GROWING YOU IN LOVE TOWARDS ME THAT YOU MAY BRING ME GLORY IN EVERY SEASON. TAKE REST IN THE SOLIDARITY OF MY DEEP LOVE FOR YOU THAT TRANSCENDS ALL OTHERS.
Truth is, isolation is not an experience that only a few people encounter. It is a reality of life that is unavoidable and comes in many shapes and forms. In the absence of community, we can become deeply intimate with God because all our strength, all our encouragement, all our accountability must come from Him. In the desperation, forged by isolation, He has picked me up and enveloped me so deeply in His arms that I now know Him in a way that I never did before. I rejoice and give thanks in this revelation. Just as a newly married couple pull themselves away on a honeymoon to dive deeper into relationship, God pulls us away to bring our focus to the depth of our relationship with Him.
Give Him your whole heart, and it doesn’t matter what happens. You will be His.
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.