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The Dangers of American Individualism

If you ever witnessed or experienced the consequences of isolation, you know how devastating they can be. Depression and mental illness thrive in solitude. There is a reason solitary confinement is one of the most severe punishments in our prison system. We do not do well on our own.

On the contrary, we were created to live in community. In Genesis 2:18, after God had created man He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” Our souls long to belong, because God created us to be a part of something. Not only did He create us to be in community, but He provided that community for us. He did this initially, by creating woman to live alongside man, but ultimately, He did this when He sent Jesus to die, restoring the broken relationship between man and God.

I find it interesting that the American Spirit challenges this idea of community reliance. Instead of leaning in and building together, we Americans pride ourselves in pulling ourselves up, without assistance, from nothing into something. We often consider those in our carefully vetted communities to be hindrances to our success. I always viewed this independent spirit as a strength, until I studied abroad in Russia.

Side note: I am not suggesting that Russian culture has it all figured out; they are as flawed as we are. However, in experiencing a society outside of my norm, I was able to step back and more clearly assess the state of things in my own culture.

Russian culture orbits around a collective mentality. This mindset existed long before the Communist era. Today this idea applies specifically to family members and friends invited into the family unit. Once welcomed into a Russian’s inner circle, you are a member for life. There is no favor too big to ask or be asked. It is an unconditional loyalty that questions the validity of American relationships. Through these beautiful albeit challenging relationships, I saw the flaws in my individualistic attitude. I was convicted by my inclination to distance myself from needy friends, instead of help them.

The closer I looked, the more apparent it became, that the American dream is not only flawed but it also goes against the Gospel. Ironically, some who cling the hardest to this ideal, often do it in the name of Christ. This is a lie. We cannot boast in self-made success and, at the same time, believe that we are flawed humans in need of a Savior. Believing the Gospel takes humility. This is uncharacteristic in our culture. However, it leads to the freeing truth, that promises despite my many failures and shortcomings, Jesus is enough. We are not meant to trample others as we climb the ladder of success. We were created to be in community with God and one another. We are called to walk through the difficulties of life alongside each another continually pointing to the hope that comes from the cross.

My natural instincts still embody the American Spirit. Fortunately, my gracious God is teaching me little by little how much I need Him and community. My husband recently left for his second deployment. The first time around, I relied on my instincts. I tried to bear the burden alone in a new city far from home. This time is different. Thursday morning, I went my Women’s Bible Study. Toward the end of our gathering, I was asked to stand with all the women whose husbands had recently left or would soon be leaving. There were more women standing than sitting. I was taken aback. I never was a part of a sorority but, in that moment, I understood sisterhood. As I took in the faces of my community, I felt God encouraging me to lean in and love well, because I was made for this.

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