Communities that Support and Strengthen

We are custom-designed for sociability. We were made to live within a community. Each of us, I believe, is created with a certain capacity for virtue and our respective communities need what we have to offer. But like most things under stress, these social instincts can be tainted.

We may feel compelled to love our product (what we crave) and use people. This is bass-ackwards! We are created to thrive when we love people and utilize things to make the world a better place for everyone.

When our social instincts get too compulsive, our natural inclinations turn into obsessive compulsions. We don’t just want to belong, we want to run the group. We are no longer content to collaborate for the good of the group, we compete for resources. We gulp down the resources to feed our endless pit of need. This need may show up as financial, sexual, emotional or material. But however it manifests itself, it distorts our better selves and turns us into greedy gluttons for more more more.

This, obviously, has the opposite of our desired outcome. We sabotage our chances as the group grows weary of our cry for MORE. Intimacy is impossible and settling for merely being an acquaintance is unsatisfying at the deepest spiritual level.

If our desire for social connection is out of proportion with reality, we may make foolish choices. We may go to absurd lengths to feel accepted. But is this manipulation really satisfying? No, because it is manufactured. And too aggressive.

A healthy social instinct supports the reality that each of us is enough, and enough is good. Together, we build a community that supports and strengthens the whole. As we continue our quest for transformation, we develop not only the skills needed for resilience, our presence strengthens any community that we choose to join.

Success and isolation

From yesterday:  What we "want" is not the only factor in formulating a vision for success and meaning in life- we need to find a way to take into account our friends, families, and communities, their needs, and their desires, in order for the pursuit of success to add meaning to our lives.  Click here to get caught up.


The workplace is merely one aspect of life.  It can never offer complete meaning because no single thing can.  If our view of success is limited to the workplace then we will live isolated lives.  I do not mean isolation strictly in terms of people or community (as we discussed yesterday)- but the general experience of disconnectedness that results from such a  singularly focused pursuit.  The primary disconnect is internal- it is the realization that our lives are somehow less than they otherwise might be.  The consequence is that we will live as disconnected people, disconnected from our family, friends, and communities.  We will not be whole.  As a result we will struggle to find lasting hope, joy, and meaning. 


I'm of the opinion (as always, I could be wrong) that becoming a successful person is the result of living as a unified, whole person.  Take, for instance, the opposite:  Steve Jobs.  Jobs relentlessly pursued one thing with his life and, in a traditional sense, was highly successful.  He had wealth and prestige by the truckload.  And, yet, by all accounts, he was a miserable sod who burned every relational bridge in his life. 


I'm not here to judge Steve Jobs, but he serves as a perfect object lesson for my point:  if we're too narrowly focused on one thing in life we will not live up to our calling to become as human as we possibly can.  And so, we must continue to reframe success. 

Moving towards a new vision for success

From yesterday: How do we find an alternative that does stimulate us while also fostering our growth as people in recovery and people of faith who desire to reflect God's image in our lives?  It starts with the realization that there is no one-size fits-all solution...I'm hoping this string of devotionals will inspire you to formulate your own vision of success based on your priorities.  Click here to get caught up.


Part of the reason that there is no one-size fits-all solution for defining success is that we all have different relationships to our friends, families, and communities.  Why am I bringing them into this?  Any reasonably meaningful definition of success will take a person's "hut" into account.  We tend to begin defining success discussing what we want to pursue in order to become successful.  Our desires are part of the equation, but only a part. 


What we "want" is not the only factor in formulating a vision for success and meaning in life- we need to find a way to take into account our friends, families, communities, and their needs and desires, in order for the pursuit of success to add meaning to our lives.  In other words, we must be willing to sacrifice in service to those we love.  Sacrifice helps us find success, meaning, and purpose because it connects us to the sensation that we're pursuing a common good, one higher than our own ambition. 

Character Part II: Character in Community

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  
Galatians 5:22-26, NRSV

From yesterday: If we aren’t paying attention to our character then we may have meaningful spirituality.  

It’s important to note, though, that character is also communal and not simply individual.  When Paul writes about character he is telling groups of people who they need to bind together to be.  And, our character is not something we’re solely responsible for creating.  It is a gift that comes to us as a consequence of life in the spirit which is, in part, shaped by our spiritual disciplines.  

I hope what’s becoming clear is that a well-rounded spiritual life is like a kaleidoscope.  There are multiple parts that come together to create a whole, but it’s not totally clear where the beginning of the image is.  It’s not totally clear which piece does what.  Spirituality is the product of drawing on a number of different thoughts, practices, and ideals and trusting that God weaves them together into a meaningful whole as he shapes us, as people, into a group that embodies His character and will.

A Communal Mindset

13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:13-15, NRSV

A communal mindset is, well, what it sounds like.  We learn to see ourselves as part of a group- God’s family.  We understand our responsibility for living as a reflection of God’s image and character to be a group responsibility.  We cannot shoulder this burden as individuals.  This is good news- there is no alternative universe that exists where we, as individuals, live perfectly.  It’s never been asked and it’s never been expected.  Part of living as a holy community means seeking God’s way of dealing with imperfection.  By responding to challenges with gentleness and loving concern, we represent God.  We assume, perhaps, that we only represent God when we avoid temptation and imperfection altogether.  Not so.  

This means we will sacrifice some personal wants, desires, dreams, or goals in order for the community to operate as a collective unit.  It means there will be disagreements and conflicts and hurt feelings.  It also means we are committed to doing the difficult work of resolving those conflicts and hurt feelings because we are spiritually connected (literally, by God’s spirit).  It means we’re committed to voicing the ways in which we have been harmed so as to give the community the opportunity to respond with love.  

The good news is, this communal mindset also means we will benefit from the “goodness” of others.  We are spiritually linked, and the community’s work reflects on the individual and vice versa.  When we are not doing well in life, we are carried by the community and still get to take credit for the work of the community as a result of this spiritual link between us.  

God works in the world primarily through people.  This is a great responsibility.  Yet, at the same time, it also means we have many opportunities to see God visibly on display, at work.