This is about week seven of isolation and the novelty of not having a schedule, having a far smaller ‘to do’ list and fewer appointments is wearing off. I feel I am in danger of losing my social skills and the ability to carry on a conversation with someone I am not married to or given birth to - strange times indeed.
Depression is a part of my makeup and something that has been part of my life since I was 12. It’s degrees of severity has waxed and waned the past 45 years. A guaranteed trigger for depression to really press in upon me is isolation. So, these seven weeks have afforded me a great deal of time to give thought to coping skills, emotional health and not caving into the heavy darkness. I am not afraid to be alone; I consider myself to have a healthy degree of independence and I do require times of quietness and solitude, but to live independent of others is not in my repertoire of strengths. I thrive on interaction and engagement.
On the most difficult days I have planted myself in a favorite chair and read, while Jeff brought me cups of tea, I napped and now Netflix and I are on a first name basis. I long for the weighted darkness to be lifted and my energy to return. Last week, while perusing Facebook I saw the sentence ‘Living in Isolation’ which naturally caught my eye. I clicked on the link and listened to a presentation about a man called Father Walter Ciszek.
Fr. Walter (an American Jesuit Priest) from a young age had a heart for Russia and desperately wanted to be a missionary there. To make a long story short (it’s hard for me): he got himself into Poland at the beginning of the war and in 1942 he was able to assume the identity of a deceased Polish widower and with that – ensured that he was put on transport train to Russia and there he began 23 years of ‘ministry’. I used quotes around ministry because of those 23 years, he spent 18 as a prisoner (the Russians were convinced he was a spy) and of those 18 he spent 15 of them in isolation in a labour camp in Siberia. Fifteen years of isolation in a cold environment (close to the arctic circle) with NOTHING: no books, no Netflix, no hot tea, no comforts of any kind, no friends, there wasn’t anyone even praying for him (since his family thought he was dead after years of not hearing from him). How did he survive in that environment for that long without losing his mind, his hope or his faith? It seems humanly impossible, which, of course, it is – humanly impossible - but not with The Father (Mark.10:27 NIV). In an interview (after he was rescued by the US government in 1962) Fr. Walter said what he lost in isolation was his self-reliance and he learned to completely rely on The Father – that is all he had and obviously all he needed. The tenacity of Fr. Walter to fulfill his calling in dire and unimaginable conditions, to encourage those he could and be a beacon of The Father’s love and remain faithful is a testament to the all-sufficient power of The Father.
My isolation is pure luxury compared to Father Walter, I have a family who are understanding and sensitive, I have the kindest of friends who encourage and pray for me, I even have the comfort of worship music. After listening to his story, I was prompted to perhaps change my perspective and view my depression and this isolation as a gift. Perhaps view it as an avenue of moving from self-reliance to more reliance, to discover that when I am weak and lifeless (as in a horrible mood, cranky, feeling lousy & with the worst of hair days) that is an opportunity to experience His strength (2 Cor. 12:10 TPT), to learn that in these moments He is an absolutely giving Father, He can take what I throw at Him because He delights when I show up empty handed (that is when He can do the most), and His grace comes in one size – ABUNDANT – and that His love is LAVISH - not as little as possible as I used to think. Relying on Him does not make me less than I am, it doesn’t make me weak, it allows me to be all He created me to be, it allows me to be un-self-consciously my authentic self (Col.3:3 TPT).
I don’t write this to downplay yours or my situations and come across as flippant and be saying, ‘cheer up, it could worse’. No, it is to say that if The Father can equip a man to live in isolation for 23 years and that man comes out holy and whole, He can and is doing the same for us in this pandemic of 2020.
If this isolation for you is a time of anxiety, uncertainty, stress or depression, I pray that The Father will open your eyes to using it as a doorway (‘portal to God’s power’ as the Passion Translation says so marvellously) to deepening friendship with Him, use it as a time to rest and to grow into relying on Him, otherwise, it’s exhausting.
Isaiah 50:10 “…. Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.”
Using the scriptures above:
Breathing prayer for sleep.
(Deep slow breath in) Thou doest keep him in perfect peace (slow breath out) whose mind is stayed on Thee.