At Sanctuary, one of our greatest goals is to bring heightened awareness to the all-too-often state of loneliness and isolation many in vocational ministry experience. If you aren't lonely right now, you might find yourself in such a season at one point or another. (I've written about this before, but I double-dog dare you to stay with me.) Unfortunately, much of loneliness is self-inflicted due to an attempt to, in essence, martyr-ize ourselves for the Cause. And much of this is due to lack of understanding of how God desires for us to serve. Believe me, I know. I've been there, done that, folded the t-shirt.
We have often overlooked the principles Jesus clearly defined for us while on earth of how to do ministry. He never did it alone. He made Himself vulnerable and let His inner circle know it when He needed their support, while also providing support for them in their time of need. There's a reason why we have much of the New Testament and that was due to the fact that these guys on the "front lines" needed support and needed to know how to forge through a section or season of life.
In our current era with technology making communication easier than ever before, Satan has worked overtime to make us all believe that everyone is so busy--too busy--that they can't be bothered by our needs for authentic connection. It is the not-so-subtle agenda of peer pressure to essentially prove just how busy we all are. While it may not be consciously intentional, we get sucked into one-upping our peers, competing for the "I'm Busiest & Most Successful in Ministry" trophy (which doesn't exist, by the way). Therefore, we break down in silence and behind closed doors.
Throughout the month of March I want to attempt to break down the lie of loneliness and send out a life preserver to you who have camped out on Loneliness Island. Recently I spoke with a friend about the concept of intentional mentoring--connecting one-on-one with someone who can speak to and challenge you with the sole purpose of mentoring and learning from one another. Her experience has led her to believe that mentoring someone with whom you don't already have a relationship minimizes its overall effectiveness. This may be partially true and, of course, one size doesn't fit all. But I can tell you this: just 24 hours prior to that conversation I was crushed as I read about a ministry wife whose pastor husband decided to ditch his wife and children for an illicit affair with his secretary. She poured out her bleeding soul via a social media group to thousands, desperate for an answer. You know what that told me? She didn't see anyone with whom she already had a mentoring or trusted relationship about her to turn for backup, support, comfort, or wisdom. And in her desperation, she laid it all out for thousands of strangers to see.
Loneliness Island may be isolating, but it is overpopulated all the same.
There is most assuredly a difference between being alone and being lonely. As a self-aware introvert, I can tell you that alone time is often good. It provides one with the opportunity to refresh, refuel, and process. But loneliness? Loneliness is defined as "the quality of of being unfrequented and remote; isolation; sadness because one has no friends or company" and, one more--"the fact of being without companions". Many love to be alone. But no one truly desires to be lonely.
If being lonely is a destination we all seek to avoid, why are we so often found dwelling there? Loneliness should never be tempting but it often is for a variety of reasons; one, of which, is pride. While loneliness can be debilitating, it also strokes our pride to believe we can hack this on our own. Nothing says "I am woman, hear me roar" like a good, soul-wrenching dramatic tale on the other side of victory. "I was out there all alone. Everyone had deserted me. It was just me and God." It may sound spiritual, but when you are there alone, you'd give just about anything to see a stranger coming ashore.
Second, we can be tempted to camp on Loneliness Island due to ignorance that someone actually cares. We don't all choose to be lonely. Sometimes it just happens, right? I've been there. There have been times I have felt so lonely despite the slew of contact data in my phone and 'friends' on Facebook. While many claim to want to be there for you, they don't often seem to initiate the call when you need them to. And the enemy makes you believe that no one actually cares. They're all too busy for what I'm dealing with right now.
Third, we can embrace loneliness due to a lack of intentional effort to connect. When you're sick, it's typically all you can do to rally yourself to brush your hair and teeth, put on some decent clothes, and drive yourself to the doctor's office. You need a little help. And generally, you'll have to ask someone for it. (Let's be real: the men in our lives are not the best caregivers within earshot. And even so, you will have to be ridiculously clear about just what you need him to do.) The same goes for life ashore on Loneliness Island. If you're out to sea, odds are you will need to let someone know. You will have to issue the invitation and make it clear: I need you. I need someone. We girls just don't do that very well.
Throughout this series featured each week in March, I pray you will join me as we unpack the baggage we have carefully packed to live on Loneliness Island. Tropical vacations are great. But don't plan to stay on that island for long. Help is on the way.
The Temptation of Loneliness Island is ENTRY ONE in this month's series, Life on Loneliness Island. What is a lesson you have learned in a season of loneliness? Let us hear from you by commenting below or joining the conversation on one of our social media platforms.
Bridgette Tomlin, founder of Sanctuary, and her husband, Chresten, have been married and in full-time ministry for 21 years. 20 of the 21 years have been spent in evangelistic work, both stateside and overseas. The couple has two beautiful blonde babies--ages 14 and 9--and base out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like many ministry wives Bridgette often feels like a red flag on the tug-of-war rope with the children on one end and her husband and the ministry on the other end! When she finds time for personal hobbies, Bridgette enjoys entertaining, blogging, singing, browsing the local antique shops, and sipping on a cup of hot tea for a few precious quiet moments. Her heart is to lead others to the authentic presence of God--through worship, through Word, and through one-on-one connection.
*Definition from New Oxford American Dictionary