“Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship.”
I'm not a biologist, but I struggle to think of anything in the animal kingdom that thrives (or even survives) alone. I believe humans especially suffer when left alone. More so than maybe any other creature on the planet we need each other. Yet, so often the wounds we carry from the difficulty and cruelty of life are carried alone. This is no way to thrive (or survive).
Having lived a life of addiction myself, I can predict a common question that might come from those drowning in the self-deception of compulsive thoughts and behaviors that seem impossible to shake:
"What are the benefits of togetherness?"
In other words, what's in it for me? (By the way, this is the way an addicted person thinks about everything: me, me, me.)
Well, I have good news. There is a lot in it for those who are willing to step into the realm of community and engage in the process of doing life together with others.
The following are five benefits that I believe make doing life together way better than doing it alone.
Together we find comfort
Ecclesiastes 4:11 - ...if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?
Living alone is painful, and cold. And I'm not talking about not having a roommate, or a spouse, or living in a cave on the side of a mountain. I mean that living detached from others emotionally is painful. And many live like this, especially addicts.
But in recovery, an addicted person finds that they are wanted, embraced, even loved in spite of their brokenness. This brings great comfort to a lonely, broken heart. There is a warmth felt in relationships that can't be replicated in aloneness. God made us to soothe one another, to "keep one another warm," when the difficulties of life press in on us.
I remember when my recovery began. My wife had left because of my infidelity. I was alone. Lonely. I could no longer ignore or deny my sin and brokenness. So, I went to see a counselor.
Within just a few sessions with the counselor, he suggested that I plug into a support group. I was reluctant at first (to be honest, I was terrified!). But I eventually decided to go to the group. I’m glad I did.
My very first time at the group I experienced the comfort of other men who understood me and my broken life. They listened to my story. They didn’t reject or ridicule me. They embraced me; metaphorically and literally! I felt I had come home.
Together we experience comfort for the pain and struggles of life.
Together we protect each other
Ecclesiastes 4:12 - And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
We are more vulnerable physically, emotionally, and spiritually when we live alone. We need friends, family, and a community to help protect us against the harms that swirl about us in life.
Temptations do not have the same power over us when we have a brother or two to fight alongside us. But if we are alone and isolated, as the verse above states, we likely will not stand.
But we don't just need relationships so we can be protected, we also need them so we can protect others. It's just as important for our brothers that we are in the foxhole as it is for us that they are there. When you have someone specific to fight for, rather than just a concept or principle (i.e. purity), you become quite a bit more invested in the battle. You realize that there are actual lives on the line, and they need your presence to help them be victorious.
After I had been attending the group for awhile, I noticed something about this idea of protection in community. No one belittled another man’s story and no one ever shared another man’s story outside the group. This wasn’t even a verbalized “rule,” this was just how men in the group protected each other.
I believe this desire to protect other group members is rooted in respect for courage. It isn’t easy to confess secret sins. Telling others of the awful selfish behaviors you have engaged in takes a great deal of courage. But when that courage is displayed, respect is granted.
We all need a group of friends, of confidants, who “have our back” in the trenches of life. We need those who protect our dignity, and we need those whose dignity we can protect. The bond of such friendships becomes unbreakable.
Together we stand up and protect each other.
Together we learn
The longer a person is isolated or disconnected from relationships, the more prone they are to delusional thinking. We rarely come up with brilliant ideas alone. How do I know this? Try bouncing one of your "brilliant" ideas off someone else, or better yet several someone else's. You are likely to get some push back on your ideas, maybe even causing you to realize that they weren't even that good, let alone brilliant.
Proverbs 18:17 - The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
We need each other to help us learn and grow and be accountable. This requires humility, acknowledging that we aren't as smart as we think we are and that there is good that comes from sharing ideas. Surely, the Word of God contains the most important ideas, and we must be willing to wrestle with the truth that sets us free, even when it demands that we change our ways.
The best context for such learning is in community with others who also desire to heal and grow.
Within a few weeks of joining my support group, one of the men shared a truism from the AA community: “It’s your best thinking that got you here.” At first, I was shocked and a little bit offended. What a hard statement! But it was also a true statement.
I was confronted with the reality that my “wisdom” in addiction was actually foolishness. My reasoning, my false beliefs, my choices landed me squarely in the prison of compulsive behaviors that I could not control or resist. My best thinking got me here.
This is when I began to discover the treasure of wisdom that exists in a group of people pursuing freedom, truth, and grace. Group became a place for questions to be asked and wrestled with. It was safe to say “I don’t know” and to let go of “always being right” thinking.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. -Proverbs 13:20
Together we learn and grow in wisdom and humility.
Together we multiply good
Ecclesiastes 4:9 - Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
One major point of fellowship and togetherness is to multiply good; to pass along the blessings we have received to those struggling. As we stumble through life, we do so together. We pick each other up when we fall, helping one another to move forward and not get stuck -- in addiction, depression, shame, etc.
Which is more encouraging:
When you fall, someone hands you a book to read.
When you fall, someone lifts you up by spending time with you.
(It's rhetorical; the answer is obvious!) Togetherness is how we multiply good. When someone has cared enough to lift you up through their time and presence, you feel compelled to demonstrate the same care and sincerity, not only toward them, but also toward others who fall.
After several months in my group I noticed a change in me when it came to sharing my story outside the group. I was more open and honest with friends or coworkers, even people in my church. As I was receiving help from the group and seeing changes manifest in my thoughts and behaviors, I felt more compelled and confident to share this with others -- even inviting other men to join me in the group!
About one year after beginning my recovery I started a group for men in my church. That was over 20 years ago and hundreds of men have come through that group on their own journey of recovery and growth.
Together we multiply good for generations to come.
Together we love
1 Corinthians 13:13 - So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Our chief aim in all of life is to love -- both God and others. At the core of our being we were made for relationship, to love one another with all our being. Love cannot be fully expressed or enjoyed alone. It makes no sense. Love must be shared.
The deepest need we have is to be known and loved. You cannot be known if isolated and disconnected from others. And if you cannot be known, you certainly can't be loved. To love someone is to know them; the good, the bad, and the ugly. We long to be loved, and we are made to love others.
For decades now my favorite day of the week is Tuesday. Why? Because this is the day that our weekly support group meets. I love this day because I love the men who show up. And when they experience love, they experience all that comes with it: hope, freedom, joy, peace, and so much more.
Together we love one another no matter what.
Don't live any more of your life alone. Reach out to others around you and start the journey of knowing and loving one another. The greatest joys in life only come in relationship.
We are better together!