It is not uncommon in the APU community to hear the words “do life together.” From chapel to class, even to the Rez Life shirts that RAs wear around campus sporting the words “Life Together,” this ideology surrounds us. While we may think this is a sweet sentiment at first, these words are deeply problematic. What has been created and used as a slogan to promote the building of community is actually doing just the opposite. The phrase “doing life” is a detriment to the building of true community.
Life is not meant to be a to-do list. Oftentimes, this ideology of doing leads us to rush through life. If you have a list of things you need to get done for the day, you will inevitably do each task as fast as you can in order to get them all checked off. Grab coffee with a friend, meet another for lunch, go to d-group, rush off to a club meeting, pick up some dinner before class with a classmate and head home to your roommates at the end of the day only to do it all again tomorrow.
I am not saying that these small moments of community are bad. Each of these examples could have very well been a beautiful time of fellowship with those around you. But I think, with the way that APU promotes this message to do community with one another, we are often not fully focused on these communal moments.
“Doing life together” promotes community for the sake of checking off a box, not to actually be in community.
The ideology is detrimental to community because it harms our personal lives first. On and off campus, we are inundated with the idea that we are defined by this societal to-do list.
Jennifer White shares this sentiment in her article, Life is Not a To-Do List, “We’re so willing to check things off an imaginary societal list of ordinary accomplishments… And when someone doesn’t coincide with these essentially made-up expectations, we question their societal worth and placement or encourage them strongly to fit back into line; to keep checking off this list.”
This is the ideology that prohibits community from forming. It is ostracizing and exhausting. It turns our very existence into a kind of performance in which worth is only merited by how many boxes we can check off in a day.
Life is not meant to be done but to be lived.
Last semester, I studied away in Rwanda. My time there radically redefined my understanding of living. In a community marred by the traumas of genocide, fellowship with one another was not viewed as yet another task. It was not something to be done. Instead, it was just life. Community was the conduit for healing, growth and life again beyond the pain of death that covered the country 25 years ago.
There were many times during my internship when my supervisor or the other staff members would come in and tell me and my fellow interns to stop working because we were “going to kill ourselves.” Our Western view of productivity was beyond anything held by Rwandan culture. While we valued timeliness and getting things done, they valued time together and holistic living. We were often urged to nap after lunch, rather than go back to work, because we needed to take care of our bodies. Our to-do list could wait.
Living is a state of being. You cannot “do” what you are supposed to be. There is a reason we are called human beings, not human doings. We have forgotten what it means to live intentionally. Slapping on the slogan of “doing life” as an intentional act of community only makes the problem worse because it is still just another task. Our Western society seems to be so bent on doing, going and achieving that we hardly ever slow down to take a breath in between tasks.
For my whole life, my Western context has told me that I have to do, do, do and go, go, go. It is not enough for me to simply be. My worth is determined by what I can get done in a day, not necessarily by who I am. Because of this, my identity becomes centered on tasks and achievements, rather than on self. But I am not a sum of my trophies and I certainly was never meant to be.
What if we got rid of the mentality that life was something to be done and instead understood living each day as an act of freedom? Choosing to live each day is an act of defiance in this culture. With this mindset, we are no longer controlled by a schedule or list of expectations to check off. We are not defined by our coffee dates or our deep conversations, so these things don’t have to be forced. Life becomes organic, instead of fabricated.
There is nothing wrong about life together, but let’s live it together, not do it together. Let’s pour into one another, not check off boxes. Let’s engage in the work of unity, not as a chore or for the sake of a catchy slogan, but because genuine living is the only way to live.