Ask any of my friends (and probably most acquaintances) to describe me, and you’ll most likely hear that I’m independent. And although I’ve disagreed with my friends descriptions of me (See “A Blog on Ambition“), in this instance, I concur. I’ve basically lived by myself since I was 20 and I am perfectly content doing things all by my lonesome if it’s something I want to do. The exception would be surfing – doing that independently just seems dangerous (Hint, hint – if someone is up for teaching me, I’m game). Maybe it;s being raised in a military family or maybe it’s just my nature, but for whatever reason, striking out on my own rarely daunts me. My independence has been a source of honor for me as I attempt to eschew the need for anyone or anything.
For awhile now I’ve thought that there was a spiritual side to this too. After all, I figured my independence was a sign of trusting God. And in a way it probably was, but not to the degree that I attributed to it. My attitude was “As long as I have God, I don’t need anything else”. And while that’s true, I think too often it led to the absurd posturing that “God and I had everything under control”. The truth was we didn’t have anything under control. He did. My independence had little to do with that fact. Relying on it was a matter of pride -not trust – and too often it caused me to miss out in the blessings of community. I’ve realized that I wasn’t made to do things on my own and too often, I’ve missed the joys that come from knowing and being known.
In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen relates that Jesus always sent out His disciples together – never alone. Whether during Christ’s earthly ministry when He sent out the seventy, or later when Paul and Timothy (among others) brought His message to Gentile communities, Christ’s disciples went in pairs. Being together enabled communal prayer, mutual encouragement, and shared burdens. Through their partnership, the disciples were able to better experience Christ’s expressions of love.
Nouwen argues that this practice should still be the case today. In fact, he extends this argument to demonstrate that it is only in dependent communities that we can fully experience one of the greatest joys in the Christian life – forgiveness and reconciliation. Without community, our struggles are our own and the joy of restoration is unshared. Through relationships with others, Christ’s grace is more fully manifest in our lives as we see His love expressed through them. Whether this is through the relationship of a spouse, family member or fellow Christian sojourner, embarking on the journey together provides assurance that we are following the right path. This assurance is only one of the blessings of community, but were it the only, it would surely be worth sacrificing our independence.
Postscript – In recent weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several young men (and one young women) serving in the armed forces. Despite a proud family history of military service, meeting these soldiers has brought me renewed appreciation for the sacrifices they are making. To them – and all members of the armed services here and abroad – thank you for your willingness to protect our freedoms, even at great personal costs.