Two By Two
Sometimes it feels easier just to do something by myself rather than doing it with someone else. Other people are complicated. I am complicated with other people. Working together can be challenging. I’ve always found singles much easier than doubles, for instance, when I play tennis. Doubles is lots of fun but there’s that other person to deal with. When my partner makes a mistake, I automatically feel responsible somehow. I feel like I should be able to do something to help the other person play better. Singles is harder on the body, but it’s way simpler. It’s just me and the ball. I don’t have to worry about encouraging anyone else besides myself. With many things, doing it by oneself is simpler.
The sixth chapter of Mark recounts Jesus sending out the 12 Apostles. The tenth chapter of Luke tells the story of Jesus sending out 70 disciples. In both narratives, Jesus ordains them to do significant work in his name and, in both narratives, Jesus sends them out two by two, not individually. Those stories have always been challenging for me in that I recognize Jesus would take issue with my bias toward individual work. The secret to kingdom work, I think Jesus is saying, has more to do with being together than it does accomplishing things in an efficient manner.
The Enneagram, a spiritual growth tool that is really helpful, suggests that people of my personality type who are somewhat obsessed with performance would do well to work as part of a team rather than doing things individually all the time. Those of us who just want to get a task done and don’t really want to have to be bothered with other people’s idiosyncrasies are often pleasantly surprised when we actually do work as part of a group. Other people bring other perspectives. Other people do certain things better than me. Other people bring out things in me that I didn’t know were there. And when I work as part of a team I bring out things in others they probably wouldn’t realize on their own. When I do embrace working with others, I usually find that one plus one equals a lot more than two. Always, when I work with others, I learn some valuable lessons. Usually those lessons have to do with developing humility and respect for others. When I work as an individual I develop a hard edge. I focus on pushing my plan into place. Working with others forces me to be attentive to the feelings and outlooks of others and we all grow.
A good friend of mine who is no longer alive used to say that there weren’t any monuments erected to honor any committees. Like me he could have a hard-edge approach to life. He was someone who got a lot done and wasn’t known for his patience. But he often had to work with others and when he and I did projects together, we both learned things we would not have learned had we just taken on the task by ourselves. Individuals get things done more easily perhaps but it takes groups to do kingdom of God work.
Life is not an individual competition to see who can get the most done or pile up the most successes. Life is more about being in relationship, learning to curb my ego and pride and look for the good in others. The people who can work and play well with others are invariably the wiser and more peaceful people. Those who have to do it all themselves are such bores; they shut out the work of the Holy Spirit.
If, like me, you are more comfortable working alone than with others, think about how you behave when you are on a team. Do you throw your weight around? Do you try to impress everyone? Do you do all the talking? Do you get impatient with other people’s comments or approaches? The valuable thing about working on a team is that we don’t get our way all the time. Working with others forces humility upon us. But some of what we learn is the delightful realization that a common approach brings a particular joy that an individual approach simply cannot bring.
Receiving Holy Communion is something that has to be done as a group. The Book of Common Prayer specifically requires that. If no one shows up for the Eucharist, the priest cannot go on alone. Worship is not an individual thing; it is communal. The Eucharistic Liturgy, like the Gospel, is meant to inspire and equip us in our daily living.
Christ did not come here to work alone. He had disciples and apostles. He moved among the people, and sent them into the world to do the work of community. He abides with the community even now. Love one another, he repeatedly coached. As Christ gets into our hearts, we take on less of a conquering mindset, more of a communal lifestyle. Jesus sends us out two by two so look for the Christ in each person you meet.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.