I read something in a book the other day that has given me pause ever since. It’s the restatement of the ideas of Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff which says:
Modern culture defines the happy life as a life that is “going well” – full of experiential pleasure – while to the ancients, the happy life meant the life that is lived well, with character, courage, humility, love, and justice.
I read that and my spirit responded with a resounding “YES!” and suddenly I was forced to evaluate everything I currently practice.
We live in a sensationalist culture. We live in a world in which we crave entertainment, and it’s honestly quite difficult to avoid. I feel I’ve been conditioned (while also willingly choosing this option) to, when I want to relax and unwind after a long day or week at work, play a video game, watch a movie, or disappear in the world of social media that is my phone.
I’m constantly bombarded with a new entertainment opportunity. It’s what my brain has come to crave, but I’m increasingly unsatisfied. It seems the pleasure is in the anticipation. When I drive home and think, “I can’t wait to play the wii,” the drive is more enjoyable than the actual game.
When I’m at work and thinking, “I can’t wait to get off and take a break,” the anticipation is normally better than the break.
It seems, in some ways, like my (I’d like to say “our” as a society) is always thinking about the next thing. Never in the moment. When we are in the moment, it seems a meaningless one.
Here’s where I make a confession:
I’ve made more out of isolating myself and playing video games than I have community.
I’ve made more out of my personal “alone” time than doing justice.
I’ve made more out of mindless experiences than I have taking time to learn and engage my mind.
I’m increasingly sickened by this as I notice it at work in my life.
I’ve also found that there are very few things in life that I truly enjoy. Or perhaps more accurately, I don’t do the things I enjoy as much as I should. To me, the difference between doing things we like vs. doing things we enjoy comes down to a matter of time – that is, the things you enjoy seem to last forever. A good dinner or a beer shared with a friend seems to last longer than a beer alone or a movie. A good book or a good conversation (or a conversation about a book) seems to last a much longer time than And the funny thing is, they usually aren’t any longer. It’s only that the time is more full.
The common thread is this: I think people are made for community.
I think people make each other stronger, and I think people enhance one another’s lives.
I think justice is only possible through community, and I think a fulfilled, impactful life is only possible through community.
I find myself so tempted to try and enjoy things that aren’t enjoyable when the missing link is community. I try to get a bunch of good experiences (or at least experience things) on my own and I end up burnt out instead of refreshed, while I can starve myself for sleep and get an early-morning coffee with a friend and feel fueled up. The hard thing is persisting when: I’ve had a long day; I’ve been gone all day; I think I’m broke; I’m tired; nobody seems to want to hang out; I want to relax my mind; etc etc.
But I think it’s worth it and I’d like to learn to commit myself to community.
There’s strength in community, and I don’t think it’s idolatry to say that we make each other stronger, because God is a God of community (He Himself is triune) and He made people to enjoy Him and His creation together.