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Internal Battles of Isolation

Wow, the company is doing more than okay, and you’re not even in the office; does the company really even need you?

You said you weren’t going to yell at your kids anymore. 3rd time today—but who’s counting? Probably NOT your
kids, right?

Working from home and not being able to attend your AA meeting—you’re totally going to mess up in this isolation. You really think you can stay sober?

You aren’t needed—not really. Everyone in your family is doing fine without you.

The company is going to sink—what are you doing to do? All these employees expected more from you.

You should have better planned for a financial strain—and it’s your fault your family might suffer.

Maybe one of these thought patterns sounds all too familiar. Or maybe you have a different tape running in your mind.  I can relate to feeling like a bad immature parent—the worst version of myself. I also find myself wondering what am I doing with my life? People don’t really need me—my job isn’t that vital. My leaders are the ones who are doing the actual pastoring—in the trenches! While I am the captain in the bunker—all safe and smoking a cigar (well, not the cigar part). I have found myself wondering “Why I decided to do “XYZ” when I could have said something different?” or “Why can’t I just be grateful like a good Christian or even, a good human being?”
Where are all these thoughts coming from? Why do I feel so badly about myself?

Thoughts are powerful. Emotions are powerful. And when we find ourselves in isolation like our present circumstance, these thoughts and emotions can dominate, and a lot of the times, negatively. Why is this? I think a couple of factors contribute:
  1. Isolation. We are home, and for some, home alone. We have a few FaceTime chats throughout the week and a couple of work conference calls, but we don’t have the normal interactions anymore that can balance out our thoughts and feelings. We aren’t worshiping with others; we aren’t meeting for our weekly group; we aren’t at the office being held accountable for our work and words; we aren’t connecting with friends regularly; we aren’t serving on our serve team. The bottom line is we are isolated, and even if we have a family at home, they can detract from meeting our own emotional and mental care as we work to care for their needs--even when it would be better for them if we cared for ourself. The enemy knows how to use being alone to his advantage—which leads into the next point.
  2. Rumination. When we are alone, we tend to ruminate. We replay scenarios in our minds. We replay what we wished we would have done or said. The thoughts of “I should have” or “I knew better” or “Why do I still struggle with this?” swirl around like a dance we know too well. We let those thoughts and the feelings of shame take the lead, and we follow because it is the role we are most comfortable with. While in the arms of self condemnation, the lies of worthlessness wrap around us tightly, and we succumb. Our surrender leads into the deep well of those negative feelings, and we stay there. The enemy knows he has us. The feelings are big; they overwhelm.

The obvious question is how do we get out of this detrimental dance?  I think Paul knew what he was talking about in 2 Corinthians 10:6: “We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” (emphasis mine) (MSG)
“…fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” I love that! How does this thought/emotion/impulse hold up to what life in Christ looks like? Does it? And if it does not, I can validate the thought or emotion, but I don’t dance with it. And I either give that to Jesus in surrender, receiving His forgiveness and grace, or I reframe it so it does not hold the power over me any longer.

Example:
Distorted thinking: “The only thing my kids will remember about their childhood is me being grumpy and yelling at them. I am the worst parent, and I should offer to pay for therapy for all of them—even in adulthood.”
Reframed thought: Parenting is hard as it is. Parenting when you can’t go anywhere or do anything is even harder. I am not the “worst parent” out there, but I can lean into giving my kids more grace. And yes, maybe they will be in therapy someday, but they are 19 months, 3, and 4. I don’t need to spend time thinking about their adult therapy sessions today. Also, I might be feeling some shame which is not from the Lord. I can ask my kids and the Lord for forgiveness and live out of the grace they extend to me.

DISTORTED THINKING LABELS and DEFINITIONS
1. All-or-nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.
2. Overgeneralization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
3. Mental filter: You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.
4. Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don't count.
5. Jumping to conclusions: You conclude things are bad without any definitive evidence. (a) Mind reading: You assume people are reacting negatively to you. (b) Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly.
6. Magnification or minimization: You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance.
7. Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel: "I feel like an idiot, so I. must be one."
8. "Should" statements: You criticize yourself or other people with "shoulds," "shouldn'ts," "musts," "oughts," and "have-tos." (My friend Joel always says, "don't should all over yourself!" haha)
9. Labeling: Instead of saying, "I made a mistake," you tell yourself, "I'm a jerk" or "a loser."
10. Blame: You blame yourself for something you weren't entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that you contributed to the problem.

Our human nature can bend towards the negative, the self-condemnation, the shame. We are good at holding on to things, replaying what happened over and over again. We are good at going down the slippery slope that soon leads us to despairing thoughts. But! we have the power to change our thought patterns! We can create new healthier pathways in our brains that can lead us toward healthier thinking and living out the freedom in Christ. We choose where our thoughts and emotions and impulses lead us. We can stop them, and take them in the opposite direction. It’s a choice—and it’s yours alone.

In this time of isolation, confess to a friend when you are struggling. Plan a group Google hang out or FaceTime with friends and family. Get outside and move your body, Get some Vitamin D when you can. Get yourself on a daily schedule. Order a good book on Amazon and turn off the TV and news. Limit your social media. Get in the Word. Play worship music. Just “be” with God—no agenda, no petitioning prayers—just sit in silence for 10 minutes and see what He shows you.

Abundant life in Jesus has no room for berating, shame, worthlessness so today, choose life in your thoughts, in your emotions. He has so much more for you!


Further reading:
“The Anatomy of the Soul” by Curt Thompson M.D.
“The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg
The Neuroscience of Behavior Change” article

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