Shannon Wolf, Ph.D., LPC-S
The quiet community of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, will forevermore be linked with the massacre of young children. Last month, the tragedy began a nationwide conversation that is attempting to address a difficult topic—violence in America.
Following a tragedy, it is normal for people to place blame. By locating the source of the problem, we can take steps to ensure it never happens again. Such is the case with this tight-knit community. To lose even one child is tragic, but when faced with the senseless slaughter of twenty young children, let alone the eight adults who died, it is little wonder that we all actively seek to make certain that nothing like this ever happens again. “Doing something” attempts to satisfy our feelings of helplessness, as well as create a quasi-sense of safety.
However, it seems that our country, for all its good intentions, is focusing on symptoms of violence and not a foundational cause.
Re-defining the Problem
In the past forty to fifty years, America has experienced a slow shift away from community. Up until the mid-1900s, people typically lived out their lives in the same towns in which they were born. Families were actively involved in each other’s lives and everyone knew their neighbors. Churches were typically the center of social activity. In short, communities tended to function as they were intended, offering connection and support.
Today, we are faced with the consequences of the breakdown of the community. Community is now a location and not an activity. The role of the church in our neighborhoods is marginal. Biblical principles have largely been removed for the public square.
Along with the changes to our sense of community is a shift in our country’s worldview. Extreme independence has led to isolation. This fact, added to the postmodern philosophy that truth and reality are the products of a personal perspective, has resulted in a wide-spread lack of sharing wisdom and offering guidance. Truth and wisdom are moving targets.
A further consequence of the lack of community is seen in the breakdown of the family. A marriage that lasts a lifetime is rare. Children are raised without the benefit of a two parent home. Marriage and parenting are inherently stressful. But when attempted in relative isolation—without the support of family, friends, and the church—the strain is often more than can be tolerated.
It is little wonder that marriages are failing, families are suffering, the church is limping, and our communities are anemic.
Christ tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are and then to love others (Luke 10:2). The concept of one-anothering comes from this commandment. As a matter of fact, the term “one another” (taken from the Greek allelon) is found in Scripture more than 160 times with 125 of those in the New Testament. It compels us to actively love, care and support those around us. Allelon is closely connected to a more widely recognized term koinonia, or Christian fellowship. Often, one will see both terms used in connection with each other.
So what does one-anothering have to do with the state of our society? Simply put, the breakdown in our communities, our churches, our families, and our homes is due in large part to a lack of allelon. We all have a divine mandate to be accountable to each other, to be involved in the lives of those around us, to actively participate in one-anothering in our neighborhoods, churchs, and professional lives, and to promote one-anothering in the lives of those we influence.
So what might this look like? One of my favorite movies is the final episode of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—“Return of the King.” At the climax of the movie, Sam, recognizing that Frodo was overcome with exhaustion and unable to complete his mission, declared that while he could not carry Frodo’s burden, he could, in fact, carry Frodo.
One-anothering insists that we walk along side of others, carrying burdens and sharing joys. It demands that we speak the truth even when the words are difficult and hard to hear. It requires us to be hospitable, honest, willing to correct, to speak up, and to represent Christ to others, both His holiness and mercy.
Where Do We Start?
Let’s focus on helping marriages to be loving and strong and on supporting parents by encouraging them and walking along side of them. Let’s again be that church family that is involved in the lives of each other and the neighbors that care enough to visit and engage in the lives of others.
I can’t promise that one-anothering will end all violence in America. However, I am persuaded that engaging in community is a step in the right direction.
A Biblical Mandate
What does one-anothering look like? Interestingly, over 80% of the New Testament references to one another are in a context of a supportive relationship (Jones, 2006). For further study in this area, take time to look up and apply some of the following Scriptures.
Encouragement: Romans 1:12, Romans 14:19, Ephesians 5:19, 1 Thessalonians 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24, Hebrews 10:25
Belonging and Honoring One Another: Romans 12:15, Romans 12:10
Love One Another: John 13:34, John 13:35, John 15:12, John 15:17, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Hebrews 13:1, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 Peter 4:8, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11, 1 John 4:12, 2 John 5
Peace and Acceptance: Mark 9:50, Romans 12:16, Romans 12:18, Romans 15:5, Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:13, 1 Peter 3:8
Teaching and Correcting: Romans 15:14, Colossians 3:16
Greetings and Hospitality: Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, Hebrews 10:25, 1 Peter 4:9, 1 Peter 5:14, 1 John 1:7
Caring for the Needs of Others: John 13:14, 1 Corinthians 10:24, 1 Corinthians 11:33, 1 Corinthians 12:25, Ephesians 5:21, Philippians 2:4, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 5:5, 1 John: 3:16
Helping Others: Galatians 5:13, Galatians 6:2, 1 Peter 4:10
Persevering: Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13
Speaking Honestly: Ephesians 4:25, James 5:16
Compassion and Kindness: Ephesians 4:32, 1 Thessalonians 5:15,
Forgiveness: Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13
Praying for One Another: James 5:16
As a Christian counselor or caregiver, how can you build “one-anothering” into your daily life? With clients? Co-workers? Friends? Family members? Neighbors? Church family? Take a moment to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Shannon Wolf, a Licensed Professional Counselor, specializes in counseling trauma survivors, both nationally and internationally, as well as victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. Dr. Wolf is a faculty member of Dallas Baptist University and a frequent contributor to The Society of Christian Psychology’s online publication and AACC’s daily blog.