Rather than taking time to settle into life together, most new communities try to live out all their ideals all at once. Instead of recognizing that freedom from addictions of this world takes a lifetime, communities attempt to quit every vice cold-turkey and inevitably fail (after all, it was the desire for the quick-fix that got us into this mess). Somehow, in our zeal to follow God fully, we get confused and think we’re God and that it’s up to us to save the world. Surely, we have to do all we can as soon as possible!
Even Jesus didn’t do all He could. He only did that which he saw the Father do (John 5:19). “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 NIV)
Partly, we’re called to interdependence because each of us is uniquely gifted. It is out of this individuation that we discover our deep need for others. Healthy community never promotes sameness; it celebrates distinctive gifts and learns to submit to their lead at the right time.
When communities and individuals seek to express the full spectrum of gifts they end up expressing none of them well.
Instead, we ought to allow ourselves some time in life to observe. For a season, focus on living out one or two discerned practices. Learn to do those well, whether individually or as a community and then, in about a year, add another thing (or don’t). It’s ok that you’re only recycling or you only know a handful of your neighbors. It’s ok that your prayer life as a community isn’t what you hoped it would be. Learn your gifts and call as a community and be comfortable with living that charism well over time, even when it means doing other things poorly or not at all.
Historical monastic communities usually only have one general call and a handful of common practices. For many, they have three core commitments in addition to their charism: poverty, chastity, and obedience. For instance, Franciscans will commit to a shared prayer life and meals, but often their charism, working with the poor, is individuated with each brother leaving for the day to work in different places doing different things.
How do you discover your charism, or your community’s charism? Saint Ignatius would say that you watch and see when your heart, your community’s spirit, feels most alive and alight with the Creator’s breath. Do you see Jesus when you’re breaking bread with others in your home? Perhaps you’re gifted with hospitality. Do you find yourself energized by fighting systems of injustice on a macro level? Perhaps you’re prophetic. Each charism bears the Creator’s image; watch for when that image shines brightest.
I wish I were quicker to learn this lesson of individuation. Too often, the world tells me I need to be good at everything to be successful. The world offers a coping mechanism when I see my own weakness: degrade that area, downplay its importance. Doing so only protects my ego, and strips my brothers and sisters of their holy regalia. Instead, I seek to recognize where I am weak as a means of celebrating where others are strong. In this way, I celebrate the magnitude and diversity of Christ.
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