I came across some excerpts from a book called Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah in which he talks about "expressive individualism." He observes that Americans have created a culture where individual choice and expression have become so valued that there is no longer any shared life, no commanding truths that tie us together. He writes:
"We are moving to an ever greater validation of the sacredness of the individual person, but our capacity to imagine a social fabric that would hold individuals together is vanishing . . . The sacredness of the individual is not balanced by any sense of the whole or concern for the common good."
Personal freedom, choice, and happiness have taken god-like qualities that trump all other values. So you do "what makes you happy." Or you make choices based on what will make you successful. Or "If it feels good, it must be right." Credit cards and fast food are examples of how we have tailored life to gratify the "individual person."
This may all sound fine to you, and you might be thinking I'm being a prude. But I have a hard time finding "freedom of choice," "individual expression," and "being happy" in the Bible. Instead, Biblical faith trends toward the communal instead of the individual. It points to faithfulness and righteousness over "being happy." "Loving your neighbor as yourself" won't always make you happy, but you will be fulfilled.
So one more word from Bellah. He proposes a return to "the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one's own advancement." In this New Year, in what direction are your endeavors oriented? Financial success? Personal happiness? Career advancement? Or is your work directed outward, "a contribution to the good of all"?