Alone and In Charge
Every morning, thousands and thousands of people commute to work. They eat a hasty breakfast, clamber into their cars, and drive - often alone - to their various destinations. These commutes can often take 30 minutes or more. They do this every day. I am one of these people, and as I look at the ocean of metal and glass around me on the highways I often think about the isolation that is steadily pervading our culture and society, and what kind of effect it is having on us, and on our children. When I was a kid, a car ride of 30 minutes or more was a special occasion, likely a vacation. We eagerly loaded luggage into the back of our station wagon and climbed in, often ‘calling’ our seat as we did - “I get the window seat behind mom!” my older sister would say. These trips were a family affair, and we enjoyed the journey as much as (and sometimes more than) the destination.
Today, however, we are an increasingly isolating culture. Even though the internet seems to be making the world smaller, we live lives that allow us to interact with fewer and fewer people if we wish. Not only are the car rides more frequent, longer, and alone, we can have nearly anything we want brought to the front door of our house. Amazon Prime has changed the way many of us think about shopping, because “free shipping” has us sitting on our couches in our pajamas, scrolling through a virtual store with endless aisles. If we do find ourselves in need of something that creates the need to physically go into a store, we can circumvent nearly all the human interaction by going through the “self checkout” line. Indeed, many of our grocery stores are now offering home delivery, or an easy pickup service, separating us from interaction even more. Even our entertainment is increasingly isolating. You no longer have to go to the local theatre and sit with a crowd of people from your community to see the latest movie. With a TV, a surround sound system, and an iTunes account you can enjoy that same movie from the comfort of your living room with just your friends and family.
What we’re learning (and teaching our kids)
All of these examples (and more) are done in the name of efficiency, expedience, and comfort, but something valuable is lost, and something unhealthy (and untrue) is taught in the pursuit of those goals. We not only lose some of the intrinsic communal elements of living in a healthy society, but we are taught that losing those things is good, that we should indeed desire this isolation and autonomy because it offers us a life of control, comfort, and ease.
For clarity, I am not condemning commuting to work, home theatre systems, or the use of Amazon Prime. These are merely examples of the shift and change in our culture toward isolation and autonomy. For those of us who are not of this generation dubbed “Millennials”, these shifts and changes may be things that we are acutely aware of. We can see how things are different than they once were, how technology (and the sinful nature of man) has shifted activities that were once only available in community to being available without any human interaction at all if we desire. But what about our children? They way they interact with the world today is all that they know. Not only that, but this same technology and sinful nature has created, through social media, a false community -- not only can we avoid nearly all human interaction, we can simultaneously believe that we still have it. The world would have our kids believe the lie that this is good -- even what’s best -- for them. We have a responsibility to the next generation to point out the flaws in these beliefs and help them redeem both their time and the technological marvels that our culture has produced.
This value that our culture places on isolation and autonomy is hard-wired into our (and to an even greater degree, our children’s) brains. It bleeds into every area of our lives, including how we gather with the saints for worship. How often do we think of our time in church as something that is “for me”? How the sermon affected me? What does it means for me? Do I like the way the message confronts my sin? How does the music make me feel? Do I enjoy the style of music being played? Do I like the instruments being played? These and a thousand other details that our minds can rush to when we gather with the saints are all motivated by one central theme: Me.
While introspection and self-examination are indeed a valuable component of our sanctification, these kinds of thoughts often come from the sin of pride. It has us believing the gathering (and everything else, for that matter) is for us as individuals rather than for the edification of the community of faith as a whole, and ultimately -- and most importantly -- for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). If this sinful posture is taken when we come to worship, we may indeed be forsaking the gathering even though we are physically present. The pull of our flesh toward comfort and control is strong, but the Lord has something better for us. He desires that we would interact with one another, be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, and pursue right relationship with Him together as his people. He has ordained that we will find joy in our obedience to him (John 15:10-12). We cannot believe the lies of the enemy that come to us through the allure of the offerings of a broken world.
There is indeed something greater than these fleeting pleasures we find in autonomy and isolation. Jesus Christ has come so that we might have life. He then calls us to spend that life by honoring him, obeying him, and walking like him. Jesus did not live an autonomous life - He submitted himself to the will of the Father (Luke 22:42) and walked by the Spirit. Jesus did not live an isolated life - he walked in deep relationship with others, pouring himself out for them. His times of isolation (Luke 5:16) were never for the purposes of selfish pleasure, comfort, or control, but instead to be in relationship with the Father. What about us? Will we walk as Jesus walked, joyfully submitting ourselves to God and walking by the Spirit, or will we be content with the short-lived pleasures of being alone and in charge?