My husband and I settled in on the couch and began to search for something interesting to watch together as we ate dinner (on TV trays).

Yes, we are those people.

Andy’s notorious for picking obscure historic films about sports or even conspiracy theory documentaries about Big Foot, all the while acting shocked when I’m not interested. Side note: we had to put the kibosh on watching conspiracy theory documentaries because I began to tell people that the moon landing was staged, but I digress.

Nowadays we usually park the remote around outdoor survival or clean comedy.

Landing on one of the four thousand programs about surviving in the Alaskan wilderness, I took a bite of my grocery store bought chicken leg, and gave the new program a go. The camera followed a few individuals as they hunted, gathered, and conquered the untamed land. We debated if it was “dinner worthy” entertainment, when a woman began to describe her life in the bush. She was recovering from surgery in a local hotel before heading back onto her remote property. My stomach began to turn and then my heart grew heavy as she described surviving bear attacks and falls on her property, only to lay there hoping she would live. She fought back tears as she explained what it was like to wonder if she was going to die alone before anyone could find you.

This woman lives on her own in the Alaskan wilderness. Her closest neighbors are 300 miles away. A mix of emotions washed over her as she told her story of independence and fear of death. There’s no one to harm you except yourself, and ravenous flesh eating beasts. When questioned why the risk, she explained that she attempted to live in the community, only to find, she returned to the remoteness of her property because of the gossip and disunity. “At least I know what to expect out here. Animals want to eat me and I want to live. It’s a simple life”

We grew tired of the somber tone and switched to another program.

All week, however, as I went about my daily routines I couldn’t shake her. Why was this woman’s story still popping up in my mind?

As I prayed I realized that, this woman represents what so often occurs when believers become wounded in relationships and isolate. The deception that you can create your own protected kingdom when others fail you is a growing error seen in our generation. This is a growing independence from any type of gathering of believers (or simply going to church) in the name of freedom from pharisaical thinking, when in actuality; you are trying to protect yourself from pain.

This woman continually lived armed with weapons and alone. Even while sleeping in her artic home, a bear managed to cut through the thin tin of a home and attack her. She had convinced herself that the payoff of isolation was better than living in a community. She was convinced that her identity was one “tough chick” who took on the elements to live. It’s what woke her up in the morning. It’s basic survival, nevertheless, not thriving.

This picture parallels the wounded believer so accurately. It could represent those who are trapped in the shame of sexual brokenness, those who believe that any type of authority equals oppression, those who hide behind ministry as identity, and the list goes on and on. We all have these tendencies to isolate and compartmentalize our lives to build a false sense of safety. Our own attempt of creating a safe kingdom; a kingdom that protects us from the pain of relationships whether we are on an Alaskan wilderness compound or sitting surrounded on a Sunday morning in church. The kingdom we build that isolates is not a reflection of the kingdom of God.

“Jesus is all I need. It’s just me and Jesus. Me and Jesus alone in this compound with guns and potential bear attacks…”

Well. Yes. Jesus is the only God that you are to worship with all of your being, but living a spirit filled life that reflects His nature is to fully engage with others. Without a spirit filled community there is no place to demonstrate the sacrificial love that Christ became for us. Without joining in there is no place to sharpen love in the growing pains of relationships.

Love Jesus then you love the church and are willing participate in a unity of believers. Jesus loved the Pharisees. Jesus died for the prostitute and Pharisee. Be a part of the solution or hide behind criticizing the weaknesses of believers in your caves. I certainly can identify seasons in my life where I slept alone with a gun by my pillow, but the more I have chosen to forgiven and taken the plank out of my own eye, I’ve grown more in love with the church as a whole. This is because most of what I know or have experienced is often the result of someone else’s breakthrough. Someone else paid a price or took a risk so I could know what was available.

I continually choose to come back to this place…that there is no honoring Christ without valuing other believers…as painful as it can be. There are those who have gone before and those who will come up after me. If I live in an individualistic mindset then I’m robbed from enjoying family that is promised to me in Matthew 19:29.

Want to reflect Jesus then love the church.

Love believers.

There’s no opting out if you want to truly carry the heart of God.

Forgive, repent, and repeat.

Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.