Growing in Christ always requires community. Apart from others, we turn inward and fail to live out God’s will for our lives.
A few years ago, Google released a database of over 5 million books published between 1500 and 2008. You can now type a search word into the database and discover how often words have been used over the centuries. Based on this data, New York Times columnist David Brooks offers what he calls the "story of the last half-century." The first part of this story is the rise of individualism. In the past 50 years, "individualistic words and phrases increasingly overshadowed communal words and phrases." For instance, the following individualistic words have been used more frequently: "self," "personalized," "I come first," "I can do it myself." In contrast, the following communal words have been used less frequently: "community," "share," "band together," "common good." The second part to the story Brooks sees is the decline in moral virtue. Certain words were especially hard hit, including words associated with courage or gratitude. But all of the following words have dropped in usage: "modesty," "humbleness," "discipline," "honesty," "patience," "faith," "wisdom," and even "evil." Brooks says, “So the story I'd like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked.” Without community, we gravitate toward selfishness.
John Ortberg says, “When I’m all alone, I can convince myself I’m quite a humble person. Then when I’m with other people and I hear someone else receiving all the praise, a voice that is decidedly not humble at all starts protesting inside me. Loudly. When I’m all alone, I can convince myself that I’m quite a compassionate person. I can watch a hallmark commercial and feel very moved. Then when I’m with real human beings and I realize that I would have to expend energy and sacrifice time and be uncomfortable to practice compassion, it turns out I’m not nearly as altruistic as I thought I was.”
Jean Vanier wrote: “Community is the place where our limitations, our fears and our egoism are revealed to us. While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone. Now that we are with others, living with them all the time, we realize how incapable we are of loving, how much we deny to others, how closed in on ourselves we are.”
All of this underscores our need to be in relationship with others. God knows that when we’re isolated, we idealize ourselves. Only when we’re connected to others do we learn about growth areas that are needed in our lives. And only as we’re connected to others can we learn to be unselfish.
Let me urge you again to get involved in a Connection Group at your church, if you’re not already in one. Relationships determine the quality and direction of your life!