I met a Wycliffe Bible translator a few years ago. He described the cultural differences he encountered upon living on an island in the Philippines. In a community meeting, people argued vociferously and passionately against one another. The room seemed split almost down the middle on opposing sides. At the end of the debate, they were called upon to vote. And they voted unanimously in favor of the majority. Each individual, having voiced his or her opinion, laid down that opinion in favor of the communal decision.
As an American who has been schooled in individualism, I have trouble envisioning myself in that room in the Philippines, setting aside my opinion in favor of the group's decision. And yet I see the value in it. I even see the potential for the Spirit to be at work in it.
So far, I've practiced fasting during Lent primarily as an individual discipline. Personal self-denial in hopes of personal edification. And that same pattern holds true for much of my devotional life. I pray in order to tell God what I need. I read the Bible in hopes of receiving personal instruction. I serve other people when it suits my schedule. And yet I have been reminded during this Lenten season that almost every time I read the word "you" in the New Testament, it is meant to be plural. Put another way, almost every time I read the word "you,' I should translate it "y'all." The commands, the descriptions of the Christian life, the exhortations to live out the gospel—they are not about me. They are about us.
Life in the Spirit is about the movement from me to us, from understanding myself as an individual to understanding myself as a member of the body of Christ, as one part of a larger community, a larger work governed by God. It doesn't mean that I as an individual don't matter. The Biblical writers uphold the inherent value and dignity of every human person, created in the image of God. It's just that my worth as an individual is directly related to my interactions with other individuals, the reciprocal relationships we form, the community we develop.
So when I choose not to drink a glass of wine as a Lenten discipline, it isn't just about my own piety or devotion. It's also about understanding self-denial as a way to become more open to the whispers and nudges of the Spirit of God, and therefore as a way of binding me to other believers and sending me forth to do my small part of God's healing, saving, redeeming work within the world. It's about the movement from me to y'all.