Isolation is a huge problem for dysfunctional families. If no one outside the family can see the bruises, if no one else realizes there are no school books, if no relatives realize the rage of an angry father beating a child, the abuse will continue for years. For those who suffered molestation, part of the equation was probably isolation. Isolation keeps parents from being accountable to anyone but themselves.
Parents who reject authority usually don’t pay taxes, can’t work for someone else and ignore laws. Because they can’t work for someone else they have financial problems and this in turn results in more law breaking like not having insurance on their cars or fudging on taxes or ignoring their children’s needs for an education. The isolated family is an island to itself and no one but the people who live in it are aware of the insanity.
Back in the day when I was a kid, there were no computers so if we owed the landlord money, we just skipped to the next town. This caused us to move constantly and resulted in even more isolation. Controlling parents who move every time they disagree with someone are hard to catch. Moving isolates their family from relatives and church family. More than once a pastor or grandparent tried to stand up for our rights to settle down and go to school, but my parents only saw this as interfering and moved us farther away.
Isolation is damaging in at least two ways. First it leaves children vulnerable to the parent’s whims and choices. If they want to move to the wilderness, the kids have no choice to but to live in a building without insulation and running water. If the parents have a mental illness they might not even think about how their decisions are going to affect their children.
The second problem with isolation is lack of community. On my first day in sociology class in college we learned how we understand who we are by the people around us. I went back to my room and wept for hours because I had exactly five other people to help me understand who I was. I had no graduating class, I had no long term church family. No one remembered me from the few schools I attended in early childhood because I usually left within the year.
Moving forty times by the time I was nineteen left me with no community because I had no one but my immediate family members who were involved in my life. I had grandparents who cared, but I felt like I was betraying my parents if I got close to them.
Being isolated from other teenagers was a very lonely existence. Part of the life process of a teen is to be part of a group. I experienced this for almost two years when we went to an unaccredited school, but for most of that time it was just my siblings and two other kids. This left little choice about who to hang out with. And while it was called a school, we spent much of our time working on the farm in the garden or building bridges across the swamp. When we did go to the classroom we had to memorize long passages from a religious writer. I learned very little in that school that could be called school with the exception of a teacher who came the second year. I was pretty happy then, learning and growing, but then we moved away.
I can’t help but wonder how our lives could have been different if we had settled in one place. I would love to say this is my hometown, this is my home and this is my childhood friends. I am fortunate to have a couple friends from childhood, but I actually got to know them more in adulthood because we moved away within a year or two and we reconnected as adults.
My siblings, although enmeshed and isolated in our teens, have never been very close as adults. I blame this partially on the family rule of not talking about the past and partially on living a life of isolation. It is challenging to learn to live in community when you have rarely experienced it. We have many wounds and when we do get together we are unsure how to help each other and usually end up wounding each other further.
I pray that will change, but so far telling the truth has gotten me nowhere because my parents have accused me of lying and say I made this stuff up. You can’t really make this stuff up–we either went to school or we did not. We were either controlled by the belt or we were not. One problem of our isolation is that very few people knew the situation of our lives back then and hardly anyone is alive today who was a witness to it.
I pray that talking about this will somehow open up hearts to communicate with each other someday, but it may not happen until my parents are dead. Out of loyalty to them there are some who would never admit the pain we lived through. When you live in a chaos long enough it seems normal. While I hold nothing against my parents and I accept they did what they thought was best, I certainly do not blame my siblings because none of us were driving the bus.
God did not think it was good for Adam to be alone so He made Eve. Even Jesus, who went into the wilderness alone, had a circle of close friends. When we notice the conversations Jesus has with people like Zaccheus and the woman at the well, we see Jesus does not ignore their past. Before they met Jesus, they were isolated and hiding their life choices, but after they met Jesus they became social–Zaccheus giving back more than he took and the woman calling her entire neighborhood to come and meet Jesus.
Knowing Jesus brings us into community where we can be accountable for the way we treat other people. Everyone needs community to understand where they belong and who they are. As a matter of fact when it comes to community, Jesus even went so far as to define His family by those who do “My Father’s will.” And no matter what has happened in private, Jesus has never left you. He has seen it all–every beating, every lie, every emotional abuse–nothing has been overlooked by God.
Don’t be intimidated.
Eventually everything is going to be out in the open,
and everyone will know how things really are.
So don’t hesitate to go public now.
-Matthew 10:26-27, MSG