I began to recognize this dynamic years ago. Early on in my career as a chaplain, I found myself becoming hopeless, unsure as to what I had to offer a small child who has suffered the ravages of an angry drunk father or mom’s molesting boyfriend. Day after day I would sit and listen as these kids poured out their broken stories of trauma, and I began to come to terms with the fact that I had no power to fix this. I could not erase brutal memories, I could not mend the broken families, I could not abate the relentless gravity of addictions, I was powerless to stop the night terrors. This was the moment where God began to reveal to me how isolation is the most painful piece of trauma. We see this in war, where soldiers in their final moments give voice to a deep desire not to be alone. Dying men crying for their mothers give testament to the fact that isolation is worse than a flesh wound. Supermax prisons reserve isolation as their most severe form of punishment, placing the worst of the worst in solitary confinement where even the guards are instructed not to talk to the prisoner.
Jesus himself testified to the pain of isolation on the cross. None of the Gospels record any protest against the crown of thorns, or the scourging, or the nails in his hands and feet. But we are given a unique glimpse into the very few things that He did say while hanging on the cross. One of them stands out as a testament to the deep pain of aloneness.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46)
More recently, I have been digging deep into what the Bible reveals about the Trinity. The first passages in Genesis paint a picture of the triune God, who reasons, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ (Gen 1:26) Here we see the Father speaking everything into existence and the Spirit of God ‘Hovering over the waters.’(v2) The initial phrases in John’s gospel reveal the third member of the Trinity present in Creation. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most basic and central understandings to Christian orthodoxy, presenting the perfect union of Father, Spirit, and Son. Jesus explained this seamless communion when he declared, ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.’ (John 1:19) Multiple other passages throughout the gospels record similar reflections of Jesus on this topic. Paul later expounds on the communion of the Spirit within the Trinity. ‘The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.’ (1 Cor. 2:11) I will not attempt to unpack all of the passages that shed light on the mystery of the Trinity; suffice to say that in scripture we have been given a unique picture of total connection, deep communion, and wholeness in the person of God.
It is this God- this moving, interacting, relational God who declared everything He made ’good’- with one glaring exception.
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 2:18)
It is in this context- a relational, connected Trinity creating man in His own image- that we come to see why isolation is so damaging. Aloneness runs counter to our own Divine imprint. An isolated person is a fish out of water. No wonder Jesus cried out from the cross! Isolation is a way of living that literally falls short of the glory that God intended for us. And deep communion is a righteousness all its own. Healthy relationships are a beautiful reflection of the One whose image we bear.
Last Friday I was visiting cottages on campus, talking and praying with residents, enjoying some spring weather while many of the kids played outside. In one particular cottage I arrived as a little boy was finishing up a phone call with his mother. She was obviously trying to kindly end the conversation; he was desperately dragging it out. When the call finally concluded, he stormed from the office in a pitiful little tornado of rage, tears and curses flowing. It took two staff members to manage the little explosion he engaged in as he ran from that office. It is sadly ironic how his painful separation is made necessary by his own out of control behavior. In spite of the best efforts of the staff, residential programs isolate kids away from families, and frequent phone calls are insufficient to meet their need for connection.
But there was more than painful isolation going on Friday night. In cottage after cottage I watched as families arrived on campus to pick up their child for a weekend visit. These kids had completed enough of their treatment to stabilize and begin preparing to return home. It was moving to see how each of these little ones reacted to the sight of mom emerging from her vehicle. Their tears were happy ones; the hugs had a hint of desperation to them. More than one parent struggled to detach a clinging child in order to collect their things and load up the car.
It is funny how a deep dive into theology tells us what these little ones already intuitively know. You and I were made for profound levels of communion with God and others. Let me take this chance to encourage you to intentionally press in to healthy relationships in your own life. Look around! God has graciously surrounded you with people who are there for this very purpose. Don’t waste your day attending only to task completion with your family. Don’t simply attend a church service and return home. Press into relationship for its own sake.
In so doing you will more truly reflect the image of the One who created you.