Real-Life Spotters - Part 1
Part 1 - The Importance of Community
“Community” seems to be just another buzzword these days, particularly in Catholic young adult circles. It seems that more often than not, it’s the catchall word chosen to encompass group activities, parish culture, friendship, and team dynamics.
According to the dictionary, community is “a social, religious, occupational, or other group, sharing common characteristics or interest, and perceived as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists”. I think to an extent this definition is correct, but we aren’t quite there. A community should be made up of authentic friends who, like spotters at the gym, can be ready to step to each other’s aid and be the “Real-Life Spotters” they’re called to be. Let’s start by diving into why this reality of community is so essential.
"A community should be made up of authentic friends who, like spotters at the gym, can be ready to step to each other’s aid and be the “Real-Life Spotters” they’re called to be."
As humans, we’re relational beings; the need for community is stamped into our DNA. This need for connection with others overcomes even the most awkward or cynical of us. I know some people who think, “I’m an introvert and I don’t get along well with others.” Even if that’s true and the person should carry a sign, “Caution: Does not play well with others,” it doesn’t eliminate their need for interdependence.
The basis of community is as simple as that, you need people and they need you.
"you need people and they need you"
Community is absolutely crucial to the spiritual life and fosters accountability, growth, security, and strength. In many ways, these benefits of community are present in both the gym and in relationships grounded in the Faith.
When you have a gym partner, you’re far more likely to actually make it to your workout. When someone else is counting on you, you have a sense of duty to make sure you’re there, even if it means waking up at 5am. That same accountability can be seen in a Real-Life Spotter, helping make sure you make it to Mass, prayer, or Bible study. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “Hey, I missed you at Mass today. Is everything ok?” One of the biggest reasons millennials leave the Church is because they don’t feel like they’re a part of it. Or, to put it more poignantly, they don’t feel like they’re missed.
If you ask any serious athlete how to become better, faster, or stronger, they’ll tell you that it comes down to discipline and pushing your limits. You need to push past the mental blocks that keep you from hitting that new personal record. But what happens when you’re the only one in the race? Sure, you may win your heat, but your time isn’t getting any faster. You need teammates and competition to progress. Just so in the spiritual life. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard dads tell their daughters is this: “When looking for a husband, look at your suitor’s friends. Because you are who your friends are.” Who are your friends? And how are you a friend to them? As teammates, you should be constantly calling each other out of your comfort zones and onto greatness.
"As teammates, you should be constantly calling each other out of your comfort zones and onto greatness"
Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a scary endeavor, just like that flood of fear when you unrack and feel the immense weight and uncertainty of going for a new PR (personal record). But rather than risk not being able to hit that new personal record and being crushed by the weight, you seek a spotter. Your spotter is there to encourage and cheer you on. Most importantly, though, he’s there to step in when your strength fails.
When you have a strong team behind you, you have the confidence to put out into the deep. You know that as you come across difficulties and encounter failure, you have people to catch you and lend you their strength when you need it.
"When you have a strong team behind you, you have the confidence to put out into the deep"
The local parish used to be where everyone in the town would go to learn or find safety, where they went for protection when they were under siege, when a viral outbreak would occur, or when they needed to be recharged before going back out into the world. It was the true center of the community. We have forgotten that the Church is here to support us and that we are here to support the other members of the Church. As my wise little sister said, “Community allows us to grow into who God wants us to be as individuals and as a group because we are connected by Faith.”
The devil knows exactly when and how to attack with temptation; he waits for when a person is at their weakest, most often when exhaustion and complacency set in. When we’re tired, it becomes far harder to resist these temptations, whatever they may be. The devil’s trick is to try to convince you that whatever sin you’re wrestling with really isn’t that bad. He says, “Go for it, you’ve earned it,”; “Oh don’t worry, you aren’t going too far,”; “It’s just this once.” Once you give in, the evil one immediately doubles down and dumps on the shame. Just when you’ve bought in to the lie, he takes the ounce of truth (the reality of the sin) and twists it into a loss of dignity and isolation. The lie then becomes, “You are the worst person for sinning like that. You better not tell anyone about this or they’ll stop loving you.” The devil wants you in solitude. The devil wants you to rot with your sin alone.
“We have lived in fear, and our fear has betrayed us.
But we will overcome the apathy that has made us,
Because we are not alone in the dark with our demons”
-The Oh Hellos
Now enter your Real-Life Spotter(s)…
I know that when I’m tired, the devil floods me with a doubt and hopelessness that pushes me toward despair. I’ve learned that I must talk to God and with the people closest to me about these instances to recognize the devil at work. It takes bringing these struggles into the light and being humble enough to realize that I need help from other people (regardless of how strong I may think I am) to counter the devil’s attack.
To round out these thoughts on the importance of community, I’d like to bring in Chesterton’s critique of Eastern religion in his book Orthodoxy:
“No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open...The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards.”
We come alive when we no longer choose to focus on ourselves in selfish introspection, but instead turn towards others, looking for the next opportunity to serve and love.
The concept of the Real-Life Spotter is a positive feedback system where everyone is looking out for the other, always ready to lend his strength. The RLS can give us an outside perspective that helps us evaluate where we are weak and broken, and where and how to grow and seek help. The RLS is what real and true community ought to be.
"The Real-Life Spotter is what real and true community ought to be."
So, are you sold on community yet?
In His strength,
“Part 2: What Community Looks Like” will come out next week!