Lessons from Isolation

This is not my first time in isolation. I have spent many times in my life alone – or alone with my children – in seasons of isolation, with little connection to other people. This is not how I believe God designs us to live. As a human being and one who loves God’s Word, I firmly believe we were created not only for a relationship with our very Creator but also with others God created. In all of these relationships, we live out the love God demonstrates for us.

Twenty years ago I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. We were newly married and off on a grand adventure. My husband served in the US Army – as he does now – and was stationed there at Fort Wainwright. We didn’t have children early on. We wanted to wait until he was off of active duty and on with his career, so he would be around more once we had a family. (My, how God has a sense of humor!) This was pre-9/11, so deployments were somewhat rare and had not touched our little family. Brian’s absences at that time were for training. So as a young adult, I spent sometimes a month, sometimes up to two or three months, alone.

I worked, which helped. But working in the church, of course, I was with others who also craved relationship or – like me – struggled with how to adapt to the difficult climate, darkness, and isolation of central Alaska. We now tell stories with laughter of temps 40 degrees below zero and the climate’s effect on our mental health, resilience, and development as young adults. But it was hard. It was especially difficult in combination with other stressful circumstances, like job changes, or family changes, or Brian’s training missions. I learned a great deal about myself and my own capacity during adversity. And I developed resilience I hadn’t had before.

As most of us live in “quarantine” at this time due to the risk and impact of Covid-19, we may be experiencing isolation like we never have before. Some of us live alone. Others are in family circumstances already causing tension and stress, such as separation or deployment. Our children are home from school but not yet schooling, adding a unique dynamic to our attempts to work at home. We may even be caring for other loved ones during this time, given no other options. Each person’s situation carries its own difficult set of dynamics.

Caribou in the White Mountains

We can withdrawal. There is great temptation there and sometimes it seems even value. In my time in Alaska alone, there were times I withdrew and chose not to interact with anyone, instead finding company in the TV, for example. These times sometimes coincided with depression, increased sleep, and some of the things you may be experiencing – or are tempted to live out – in quarantine now.

But today I got up, exercised, got ready as if I were driving to work, and remembered the gifts of that time.

  • Exceptional Creativity. Twenty years ago, we ordered a brand new desktop computer, which arrived from Dell in what must have been seventeen boxes! We set it all up and enjoyed the advent of awesome graphics cards and programs. Brian played games sometimes. I learned how to design websites. Instant messaging was beginning to become a thing. From our dark apartment in Fairbanks, we were able to message with friends and family throughout the United States. I developed other hobbies during that time too. I learned how to cook. I fiddled on the guitar. Each of us has creative ability because we were created by the One who is most creative! And we are made in God’s image. One gift of a quarantine or season of isolation is truly exceptional creativity. At our church, as we offer online worship services this month for the very first time, this creativity is exemplified in our worship band and tech team’s abilities to create.

  • Physical Activity. Exercise isn’t and never was something I really enjoyed. Through high school it was not my thing, and I regret not giving it a shot. As a young adult, in large part out of boredom and weight gain in the darker months in Alaska, exercise became a new hobby. I would stay up late at night (a habit I’ve never really broken!) and good ‘ol Chuck Norris would sell those early Total Gyms on TV. So I ordered one and set it up in our apartment. It was my first experience lifting weights, it was something I could do inside at any time, and it kept me a little bit active during a difficult time. While we are quarantined, out of boredom, extra time, or the need for a break from loved ones, remember our bodies are a gift and they are our responsibility to keep healthy. Walk a little every day, do some body weight exercises, or maintain a physical activity you already enjoy. This is for our bodies but also for our minds. I have learned from seasons of isolation that it is essential.

  • Connection with Others. Just as I discovered, from Alaska, some of our early technological tools for staying connected, there are so many more available now that make a tremendous difference in our ability to be with others. Early on, my husband and I only communicated by satellite phone, when we were lucky. Many times our phone calls dropped or cut off, which can be emotionally devastating when you are looking forward to hearing your loved one’s voice and feeling so alone. Now there are apps that allow us to talk across the world and even see one another. These tools are so valuable now even as we are all quarantined just a few miles from our friends and family members. Try Facetime. Or Skype. Or any of the other apps allowing you to communicate, if you have these at your disposal. Do it often. Stay connected. Smile at one another and share just a few sentences of encouragement. We were not created to be alone, and we can feel forgotten. This is a unique season, a pandemic (!) – tell someone how you feel about them and remind them they are loved.

    We lived in Alaska about three and a half years. But the hardships I faced at that time prepared me for even harder times to come. Remember – today, in quarantine – you can and will get through this. You can do this. And this time will pass; this is not forever. Most of all remember, you are not alone. And you are always loved. My prayer for you is to see glimpses of that love our Creator has for us. Today – and every day.