Community as a discipline

I am becoming more and more convinced that independence is not a virtue. Sure, it's touted as a virtue- we're taught from a young age that independence is The Point- the American Dream even. "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps!" is the saying. "God helps those who help themselves". Figure things out on your own, and you've proved yourself smarter than the rest. Get by without ever needing to ask for help, and you've arrived.

This philosophy does not only permeate wider American culture, it has infiltrated Christian circles. God is enough. We shouldn't ask for help, to avoid being a 'burden'. We should trust God to provide our needs. Sola God - Relying on any other source would be showing little faith. Industriousness. Independence. "Christian work ethic" and all that. Who is held up as the virtuous woman? the one who needs no one- who makes her own clothes, bakes her own bread, grows her own food, teaches her own (many) children at home, etc. What about the virtuous man? The one who can provide many, many good things for his family, without anyone else's help. The couple that can 'have it all together' on their own.

The other side of the spectrum is groups of Christians- some single, some with families- who live in community, all the time. They sometimes share large houses, sometimes live next door to each other. They eat together and take care of each other- not because they're all related, but because they're all Christians, and they see that we're commanded to care for each other and share everything. Most of these communities are very concerned about taking care of those outside the community, too, and will be located in inner cities, so they can show love to the poor and marginalized. Do these people make their own clothes and grow their own food? Sure. But the difference is, they share it, and they rely on each other to take care of things. Children are raised in community, by everyone. Finances are shared. This latter group is not independent, but instead very much dependent on the rest of the community for survival.

Last weekend, we went, as we have once a month for many months, to serve in a downtown church. This time, though we got a tour of the church and heard from the pastor about a little bit of his philosophy of ministry. He said the Bible says that "it is more blessed to give than to receive". I'd heard that before, of course, but hadn't ever thought about it. He invites people to come and help out at the church so they may be blessed. He could cook & serve food to the 50 or 100 people that show up for dinner every week, sure- but he wants us, and other willing Christians- to be blessed. We weren't down there to bless him and his church. God says we are the ones that come away with more blessing.

So, I connected the dots and realized- when I am not dependent and reliant upon my fellow Christians, I rob them of blessings. If I do not allow them to give or to relate, I am not allowing them to fulfill many of God's commandments. It takes humility for me to admit I need help- I'm awful at it. Giving is easy for me- receiving is what needs to be a discipline- admitting I don't have all the answers, and humbling myself to ask others for help. It is good for me. I need the humility. And the community around me needs to be blessed by giving- whether it be answers or meals or time or whatever. Living in community is not easy, but, for our spiritual health, it is necessary.

I'm very lucky to be a part of a community that takes care of each other. In my small group, which we meet with weekly, a couple of us are moving in the next month, and every couple has offered to help with the moves. In the last year and a half, 4 of the 5 couples in the group have had a baby (Us obviously being the 5th couple...), and each time a baby came home, the group rallied around the new family, bringing them meals on a schedule so they would not have to cook for a month or so, and focus on their new little one. By bringing them meals, or getting help with moving, are we saying "You can't do this yourself, you need our help, WE are blessing YOU"? Not at all! Each parent was perfectly capable of cooking meals on their own. The couples who are moving could certainly work out logistics without the rest of the group's help. But we are all practicing the discipline of dependence- those that are receiving are growing through humbling themselves and accepting help, and those who are giving receive a bigger blessing.

Here, I could go into the necessities of community based on varying gifts within the Church, but I think you get the idea. We need each other, and we need to rely on each other, and be a part of a community. Withdrawing to complete independence is convenient, but not what we are called to. God gave us Church and Extended Family for a reason. To love my neighbor, I need neighbors. I need to place myself in community.

This is what I believe. Check out what others are taking a stand for!

Are you a part of a give-and-receive community? Why or why not? What has been your experience in the past?


Lisa said...

Oooh! Wish we would have been there on Sunday. That sounds neat.

Joanna said...

Lisa- Not only did we hear from the pastor about why he does what he does and why he does it the way he does it, we got a tour of the church and the school they run out of it. Really neat. I wish I had my camera, so I could share more about it.

Larissa said...

Daniel really struggled with this too. He realized that he would get frustrated if someone wouldn't let him pay for lunch, etc., when he offered but then he wouldn't allow others to do the same. He set up a rule for himself that if someone offers to pay for something or do something for him, he will only say once, "You don't have to." If the giver replies by saying they want to, then he will let them be generous. He realized that not only was he being a hypocrite, but also came to the same conclusion you did that he is taking someone's joy from them.

Larissa said...

I should have read what I posted before I posted it. That last sentence was awkward. I promise I can write better than that! :)

Beth @ The Natural Mommy said...

Very nice point about stealing others' joy with unnecessary independence. God has put me in many a position where I strive to be independent and provide for my family myself, thank-you-very-much, but what He intends is for me to depend upon others.

Perhaps, after the difficult childhood I had, He is trying to teach me to trust others?

But I always looked at it from a self-centered position. I never thought that by refusing someone's offer of help, I was refusing them the joy of giving. I thought I was saving face. I thought I was keeping them from giving when they really didn't want to - they just felt obligated and awkward that they had so much when I had so little. By refusing their assistance, I was making them feel better - so I thought.

Thanks for your post!

Now... who wants to start a commune? It'll be fun. Come on.

jtcosby said...

I am reading a book called "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne. I HIGHLY recommend it. It talks about this concept quite a bit and it's from the perspective of someone who is actually living it. I think this concept needs to be examined more and done more too...Thanks for the awesome post!!!

Joanna said...

jtcosby - I don't know if you could tell, but many of my ideas came straight from Shane's book. I read it a while back, and it definitely impacted me too.

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

Hmm sounds like someone went to Taylor. ;-)


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