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?