Devotion: Solitary Confinement

“Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone…” Gen. 2:18  

When I was a junior in college, I went to visit a friend studying abroad in Scotland.  I had never traveled alone before, and as I settled into my plane seat I figured this would be easy.  While most slept during a 14-hour overnight flight, I landed in London having watched every movie and eventually the flight tracker for two hours straight.  Jet-lagged in a foreign country, I wandered the streets of London for the evening until my train the next morning.  As I squeezed into my seat, I discovered that I was surrounded by 9 Russians.  Two hours up the tracks, another train had derailed, so we had to disembark and climb onto a charter bus for the rest of the trip to Edinburgh.  My seat mate on this portion was a young french woman.  And after a few failed attempts at communicating, I sat in silence.  Finally arriving at the Edinburgh station, I sat down at a bar, as I still had another train trip to my friend’s place.

Suddenly, I heard an exclamation, “Wes!” As I looked over my shoulder I saw two friends from high school who I had not seen in 4 years.  After 48 hours of relative isolation and loneliness I was deeply grateful to encounter them.

Those two days taught me a valuable lesson, “I was not meant to be alone.”

When a child acts up, most of our parenting skills come down to one technique: Time-Out.

It’s the same thing prisons do when someone in jail acts up.  They place them in solitary confinement.

For some reason, we have determined that isolation and seclusion is the way to punish the punished.

I recently discovered that true long-term solitary confinement is illegal in the United States. Being completely isolated from other human contact for extended periods falls under the “cruel” punishment side of things.

Being completely isolated from relationships is destructive to the human psyche.

Yet for some reason, we want to make ourselves more and more isolated. We build walls and facades around our lives, afraid of letting people in. We hide behind our privacy fences until it is time to hop into our cars in a garage, fly out onto the highway for our long lonely commutes, stick in our earbuds as we lock ourselves away in an office or cubicle, until we make it home when the kids are already in bed and the wife is reading her iPad in another room.

Spiritually, we are no better off. We plug through the day, the week, the month, and often years with a sense of God but no real interest or time to seek Him.

In churchy language we call this separation from God “sin.” Like a prisoner misbehaving it isolates us from God and from one another.  It is excruciating, but it is the punishment we deserve as we stumble through life hurting others with our flippant attitudes and selfish desires.  Solitary confinement is what we deserve so that we won’t keep hurting others.  Truth be told for most of us, if you really knew what I was thinking and feeling you would not want to be around me; so God and others separate from us.  This is what sin does.

As we turn in Holy Week from Jesus teaching in the Temple to Jesus being crucified, we notice something about Jesus. His progression from Palm Sunday to the cross was one of separation and isolation. He went from crowds of people, to a small dinner, to 3 men falling asleep as he prayed, to being arrested as his followers scattered, to standing alone before Pilate, and ultimately being strung out on a cross. Isolated and Alone.

And in the end, he cries out to his Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” He enters three days of solitary confinement.

Jesus–the one who knew nothing about being separated from God–goes to that length for us. He feels it; He experiences it. And it is agonizing for Him.

It’s the punishment that has been reserved for us.  He goes into that cell for us.  He takes it upon himself.

Then do you notice what the first thing that Jesus does when He is resurrected from that confinement?

He seeks out his disciples who have become isolated, scattered and alone. He looks for the hopeless, wandering and wondering. He calls Mary by name in the Garden, He meets Cleopas and no-named-disciple on the road to Emmaus, He breaks into the locked room the disciples are hiding in, He comes back so that Thomas can see him, He restores Peter on the beachfront, He pursues Paul along the road to Damascus…He seeks you and me.  He pursues us where we are.  He does this while we are still being self absorbed, gorging on what’s in front of us, gossiping about the family next door, fighting and flirting, building and destroying.  He heads towards the Hot Mess of our lives.  Jesus walks up alongside us and calls us by name.

When God created us, He realized it was not good for us to be alone.
And in the end, when Jesus gathers up his disciples he tells them “And remember, I am with you always.”

In Christ, you are never alone.


PS–Interestingly, I began a book today called Godless in which a former pastor describes his deconversion.  In it, this is how he articulates his moment of deconversion.  Looking upon the same sites that have drawn many towards the Creator, for him it drove him towards aloneness.Alone

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