“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” (ESV)
“I just need some time to myself.” Have you ever heard something like that before? If you’ve been through the preteen and teenage years the better question might be how many times do you hear that per day. Have you ever said it yourself (other than when you were a teenager)? What prompts such a declaration? Often it comes because we’ve had a bad day and want to be alone so we can lick our wounds in private. And, that’s okay. Being by ourselves isn’t a bad thing. Being isolated, on the other hand, is a problem.
You see, there’s a difference between being by ourselves and being isolated. Being by ourselves is a temporary condition that is usually voluntarily induced. Being isolated is a longer term state of affairs that may be self-induced or may be forced on us by life circumstances and can be seriously detrimental to our health at a number of different levels.
We need people. Humans are social creatures. Even the most introverted among us needs people in our lives. Regularly. One of the worst punishments a person can receive in prison is solitary confinement. There is a growing body of research which suggests solitary should actually qualify as cruel and unusual because of the lasting mental and emotional and even physical impact it has on the prisoners who receive it.
It is possible, though, to be isolated without being by ourselves. There are times when we have been isolated because people pull away from us. Usually we’ve done something to contribute directly to this state of affairs. Sometimes we isolate ourselves because we think we deserve it. We feel guilt over some decision we’ve made and punish ourselves by withdrawing from relationships. Ironically, in doing this we are taking away from ourselves the very thing we need to help us confront the issue and resolve the guilt. Still other times we isolate ourselves because we don’t think we’re worth the relationships. Our self image has been so abused and damaged that we begin to cut ourselves off from other people so as not to inflict ourselves on them. As with guilt-motivated isolation, in doing this we cut ourselves off from the resources we need to solve the problem.
The thing is: None of these reasons for self-isolation are good. Not a one of them. Still, though, they can all be addressed fairly straightforwardly with counseling or simply encouragement because they come out of a place of recognizing our brokenness. There is yet one more reason for self-imposed isolation whose roots are more poisonous. Sometimes we isolate ourselves because we want to hide what we’re doing from the people around us. This is where we can get into real trouble. This doesn’t come from a recognition and response to our brokenness, it comes from an embrace of it.
This is the kind of isolation Solomon is talking about in this proverb. The isolation comes because we are seeking our own desire. I suspect you understand this. There are times when you want what you want, but you don’t want anyone to know about it because you want what you aren’t supposed to want.
We have two choices here: We can hide and break out against all sound judgment; or we can change what we want so that we want what Jesus wants more than we want what we want. From that it seems like the choice between the two should be clear and obvious, especially for followers of Jesus, but you know as well as I do it’s a whole lot harder a decision to make in the moment than it should be. The reason is simple: We want what we want.
Do you know what can help push us in the right direction? People. Godly people. Godly people to whom we have given access to our lives to love us and call us by their word and example and actions to live with righteousness and godliness as our guardrails. In other words, at the very moment want to want isolate ourselves so we can do what we want is the very moment we need to draw near the people we need the most who can help us stick with the God we need even more.
You need people. They need you too. Don’t choose isolation. Lean into the relationships God has given you to keep you close. When you want to pull away to hide, lean in closer still. You need them more.