Why Community is Essential for Freedom

Johann Hari traveled the world in hopes of finding better ways to help drug addicts. After meeting with dozens of people, experts and junkies alike, he concluded, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connectivity” (TedTalk). One of the men he met along his journey is Canadian psychologist, Bruce K. Alexander, who conducted a study in the 1970’s called Rat Park. He put rats in empty, isolated cages with two water bottles; one with plain water and the other with morphine water. Nearly 100% of the time, the rats would become addicted to the drug water and eventually die from overdose. He also created a giant cage that he called Rat Park, with dozens of rats, cheese, and toys, along with the same two water bottles. It was like the Garden of Eden for rats. His studies showed that almost none of the rats in the connected environment became addicted or died. They barely touched the morphine water! After getting some of the rats addicted in the first environment, he moved them to Rat Park. These rats stopped using the drug water very quickly. 

Obviously, you are much more than a Canadian rat in a cage, but the principle of connectivity is crucial to our lives. Being saturated in raw community has grown my relationship with Jesus and is one of the main reasons I’m still living in freedom today. People have celebrated with me in the best times and been there in the dark hours of the night when throwing my life away and returning to the mud pies seemed like a decent option. Community has a massive impact on our ability to live and thrive in freedom.

Community is God’s plan for our lives. In Acts 2, you get a glimpse of this. During the first ever church service, 3,000 people from all walks of life (many likely had an addiction of one kind or another) responded to the Gospel and started following Jesus.

“...there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41b-47).

These new believers knew they couldn’t do life alone. They knew they needed each other. After meeting Jesus, they immersed themselves in relationships with other Jesus followers. They ate together, worshipped together, and cared for each other. 

People like you and me need this more than anyone. This is where we can be encouraged, taught, and corrected. It’s where we can laugh until it hurts and run when we get trapped in our own heads. It’s a place we can experience more of God. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). 

God’s original design was for us to have a perfect relationship with Him and a perfect relationship with others. The Gospel not only reconciles us back to God, but it also forms us into a family. Community is in our makeup. We are made in the image of God, and He models perfect community for us with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we do life with other Christians, our hearts, minds, and bodies will continue to be transformed into who God created us to be. 

You may be thinking, “That’s great, but all my friends are junkies. Where can I find godly community?” There are many ways you can do this, but I’m going to go into greater detail with three.

1- CHURCH

For thousands of years, Christians have gathered to worship God. The word church comes from the Greek word, “ekklesia,” which means an assembly or gathering of people. The author of Hebrews encourages, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). You may have negative experiences in your past with church. Maybe your grandma drug you to church or your family was hurt by one. Maybe you’ve never even been to church before. Despite your church history, finding a good church family to be a part of is one of the most crucial aspects of continuing to follow Jesus.

After becoming a Christian, I dove into a church community and this is still one of the bright spots of my life. Find a church in your area that you can plug into. Make it a priority to be there as often as possible and immerse yourself into the community. Don’t just attend once a week, but join a small group, start serving, and hang out with other church members as much as possible. Make the early church in Acts 2 your example to follow. How can you utilize a church to make your life look more like rat park than an empty isolated cage? 

2- 3AM FRIENDS

Church is great, but our connectivity must go deeper. We need people we can call at all hours of the night, be raw with, and confess things to that you were planning on taking to your grave. People like you and I sometimes have pretty crazy thoughts, especially early on in our freedom journey. Thoughts of using, taboo sexual desires, and much more. If you stuff those thoughts, keeping them to yourself, they may become a reality. Look for someone you can spill your guts to. These aren’t social media “friends” who only see the best version of you, but people who know the worst parts, and love you anyways.

Who we hang out with is who we eventually become. We must take a strong look at the people we are spending the most time with and make some serious changes. “The righteous choose their friends wisely” (Proverbs 12:26). I’d recommend cutting out every addiction relationship for at least a year; even some family members if necessary. I even deleted every drug contact I had in my phone. This may seem drastic and may be a very painful process, but I’ve seen way too many people hold on to unhealthy friendships that led them back to the mud pies. Jesus said, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

Begin spending time with people who are where you want to be. You may find these people at church, in recovery meetings, or other places like a gym. This may take time, but it will be worth it! 

3- SPIRITUAL MENTOR

In the 13th century, Emperor Frederick II of Rome did an experiment that isolated babies from their parents in hopes of determining the original language of man. The babies were fed and bathed by nurses, but were not spoken to or held. Without the love and communication of an older human, the babies all passed away (History Answers). This is a very sad and evil experiment, but it shows our need for human interaction, especially from people who can take care of us. This principle is also true in our Christian journey.

Not only do we need godly friends, but also godly mentors. We need more mature Christians, who are typically older and the same gender, to show us how to continue to follow Jesus. They live as an example to us, helping us work through our past, and teaching us how to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. In AA and NA programs, these are called “sponsors.” Christians often call these people “spiritual fathers” or “disciplers.”

Early in my relationship with Jesus, it helped to have someone to empathize with my story, but now most of my mentors don’t have a past like mine. More mature Christians have much insight to offer us even if they’ve never touched a drug. My first mentor and I talked almost daily for the first year, but now I meet with my mentors less often, and go to them primarily with more serious situations. They are still a vital part of my life.

Find someone who is walking closely with Jesus that you want to pattern your life after. Tell them about the metamorphosis God is doing in your life right now and that you’ve been advised to find a mentor. They’ll likely be glad to help you out. Finding a good spiritual mentor is one of the most crucial things you can do in this freedom journey. They will be a tool God uses to guide you into more freedom and richer joy.

COMMUNITY IS GOOD, BUT NOT GOD

Although community is an indispensable part of our lives, people are not our god. Many addicts become overly dependant on another person, family member, friend or mentor, only to be disappointed. They can be there for us, but they cannot fill our void. They can encourage us, but they cannot fix our problems. Whenever we try to find in others what only God can give us, we will become discontent and the other person will crumble under the pressure of our praise. Neediness sucks the other person dry of everything they have to give, and we still don’t get what we’re looking for. People are meant to point us to God, not take His place.

Community works best when we are satisfied in God, looking to Him for our deep sense of okayness. This overflows into healthy relationships with others without being overly needy and dependent on someone other than God. Many sociologists have called this interdependence. At the beginning of our freedom journey, we will need people more than usual for a season, but this should always transition into dependence on God. He is able to stand the test of all of your neediness. He can bear the weight of your worship. Community is a good thing, but it is not our god.

IT’S WORTH IT

For years, we have lived like the isolated rats chugging the drug water as fast as we can get it into our bodies. Now, God has saved us and adopted us into His family. We can leave the empty cage and join the celebration at Rat Park. As we begin to do life with other people we will quickly find that community is messy and often feels like sandpaper for the soul. People will let us down, and vise versa. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. You’ll surely find your heart, mind, and body becoming more like Jesus. Community will help you continue to live in freedom and not return to the mud pies in the slum, as you enjoy this Holiday at Sea.