Back at A. I looked up at the stubbled fields and wrung-out-blue skies, stretching as far as I could see. Ordinarily, being in the country was a peaceful experience. There was no sound of traffic, only the distant hum of a tractor somewhere, probably gathering hay bales. The tiny crumbling farmstead a few yards away was worth photographing, in all its rustic glory, but somehow it only seemed to highlight the emptiness I felt. I looked down at my phone again. Amazingly, I had reception, but that wasn’t the problem. Twice now I had scrolled through all my contacts only to arrive back at “A”. There wasn’t a single person I could talk to about the things churning inside. No one I felt I could confidently trust. No one who wasn’t connected to everyone else. I closed my phone and shoved it back in my pocket. “I guess it’s going to be you and me on this one Lord.”
Have you ever experienced something similar? If you have, you're not alone. Studies show that as many as 70% of pastors feel that they have no close friends. If those statistics are predominantly for male pastors, I am willing to be bet they are similar or even higher for women in ministry, especially pastor’s wives. This is compounded by the fact that many women who stand alongside their husbands in ministry often act as human shock absorbers. They are often their husband’s sole confidant and person they trust to unburden themselves too. But this can take its toll. Who can the pastor’s wife turn to when she needs to offload? The unique dynamics of ministry mean that it is possible to be totally surrounded by people and yet feel alone. But God did not design us to walk alone.
Remember the analogy about the animal that gets separated from the herd and becomes more vulnerable to predators? No matter how strong you are, if you are walking alone, you are fair game in the enemy’s eyes. How is it possible that Elijah, after seeing fire fall from heaven, found himself at a point where he despised life itself? His isolation, out in the backside of the desert, made him vulnerable to the spiritual attacks of the enemy. But why would the enemy want to unleash a wave loneliness on the people of God in the first place? The reason is simple.
People are meant to be with people. We are called to impact others and they are called to impact our lives. In this way, we can better grow, expand and build. If the enemy can steal your connectivity, he can steal your effectiveness.
If you find yourself in a place of loneliness, here are some steps you can take to get free:
1) Break the taboo. Shame and isolation work hand in hand. When I minister to other women and share some struggles with them, I am always astounded at how many have gone through or are going through similar things. Don’t let the enemy fool you into thinking you are the only one. If he can get you to believe that, he can keep you in isolation. Break the taboo firstly with yourself. Acknowledge what you are feeling and bind any shame that has come as part of the package, in Jesus Name. Be nice to yourself. It’s okay to recognize that ministry life does take its toll sometimes. You are not weak, needy, or a failure if you feel lonely. As a person in ministry, you face challenges on a daily basis that most of the population does not- and you are constantly on the frontlines.
2) Determine to reach out, even if you have been terribly hurt. To do this, you firstly need to check with the Holy Spirit and ask him to reveal who you may need to forgive. If you don’t, you are giving power to the enemy and to the person who wronged you to keep you in chains of isolation. In saying this, its okay to recognize the difference between forgiveness and trust. Just because you forgive someone doesn't mean you have to automatically entrust yourself to them. Sometimes trust needs to be rebuilt, or, in some cases it never gets rebuilt. It may be necessary to have a certain amount of emotional distance with some people. There is nothing wrong with having boundaries- it’s the walls of bitterness that keep us isolated. It’s okay to have friendships within the church, but in doing so it might be wise to apply a piece of advice I was given years ago, that a minister needs to “love deeply but hold loosely.” If you do this, you will have the freedom to love, even if people hurt you.
3) Find your “herd.” We were talking earlier about an animal getting separated from its herd- sometimes this happens because we are trying to run with the wrong herd. If you find yourself confiding in women that prove themselves to be untrustworthy, for example, it might be time to start looking for a new herd. Your herd doesn’t have to be big either. Jesus did not entrust himself to men (John 2:24) because he knew how fickle people can be (case in point- palm fronds one day, a crucifixion the next.) BUT Jesus did have an “inner circle” of friends he related to on a different level- Peter, James and John. You don't need to have scores of friends, but if you have a small strong core it certainly helps. It's also healthy to have a “cross-section” of different friends, for example:
Mentors- Those we are accountable to, can confide in and trust to speak into our lives.
Ministry Friends- Peers who are also in ministry and are aware of the struggles that go along with it.
Acquaintances- Often those we minister to. Unless you have a strong, tested relationships with some members of your church or people you minister to, you may prefer to look outside for intimate friendships.
Non-ministry friends- These are the type of relationships we may feel wary of having or feel like we don’t have time for, but they are essential! Ministry can be a bubble, and your friends who are not in ministry will help pull you out of that head-space for a while and help keep you sane! I have a close friend who is a gifted artist and writer. I love that when we are together, we talk about anything BUT ministry. Art, home décor, world travels, parenting, food…absolutely anything! Whenever I spend time with Satu, I feel like I have had a brain shower.
Note: Some crossover may occur between these groups.
4) If you don’t feel that you have trusted friends in your life, pray that God will bring new relationships into your life. Beware of the lie that says you will never be able to find a friend in the same spirit as you. Elijah fell for that one, until God reminded him that he wasn’t the only prophet left- there were others. In the same way, God can lead you to encounter vital, nourishing friendships. When I moved to the USA from Australia, He gave me a promise- “[I] set the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:6) Right around the time I fell pregnant with my second child, I started to attend a women’s Bible study group in the new area we had just moved to. I can’t thank God enough for the way that these wonderful women came around me and have been such a blessing to my life! He brought them along at just the right time. I pray He would do the same for you- remember, he does not want you to walk alone. Although we all go through periods of time doing so (for example, in times of preparation and learning to depend on God), understand that this is not His long term plan for your life.
If you would like to receive ministry and prayer in this area, I encourage you to watch our video below, “Breaking the Power of Isolation and Loneliness.”