It’s Not All About You

California may very well be the cradle of the “spiritual but not religious” movement, if you can call it a movement. Many of us are are more inclined to spend our weekends hiking or mountain-biking than in a church, synagogue or mosque. And we are not alone. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently reported that the fastest growing group among Americans  — a whopping one in five adults and one third of those under age 30 — is those who report no religious affiliation. “I attend the church of the blue dome,” said a friend of a friend recently. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But I had an experience this weekend that reminded me of the value of good, old-fashioned organized religion, and it had a lesson for all of us about community.

While visiting my parents in the Chicago suburbs, I went to see my friends Lou and Lillian and we got to talking about church and religion. Lillian Daniel, who is senior minister at First Congregational Church in Glen Ellyn, recently made a big stir when her blog “Spiritual but not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me” appeared on the Huffington Post. She argues that, while there is nothing wrong with “finding God in the sunsets,” it is also not particularly original or radical or even interesting. Lillian contends that there is a deeper, richer value in being spiritually engaged within a religious community. Having a spiritual experience on a mountaintop or upon witnessing a rainbow is nothing new; in fact, there’s a great religious tradition of seeing the divine in nature. But Lillian contends that coming together in the context of a religious community goes beyond this personal experience and challenges you to engage deeply with a tradition not of your own making and have it inform your life and actions. Her Sunday sermon on the 8th Commandment (Thou shalt not steal — duh!), used scriptural teaching to invite the listener to reflect on different types of stealing (including unfair lending practices and time theft), and ultimately exhorted us to practice its opposite, generosity, in our daily lives. Religious communities at their best* call us to think and act beyond our own selfish interests. They remind us that, as a mom I know says to her son when he gets out of hand, “It’s not all about you.”

So how is this relevant to coaching? I assure you that I am not recruiting for any church. But there is a lesson here for coaches and clients, and it is a call to action. The aims of coaching — whether leadership, happiness, job transition, or  fulfillment — are not best pursued as individual sports. The richness and challenge and growth come from taking one’s personal quest  beyond an individual insight or revelation to a communal endeavor and a larger purpose. Even the practice of gratitude, popular among many “life coaches” and gurus, has its limitations. It’s all well and good to be grateful for the blessings of your life. It is even better to put those gifts to work in community to serve others and the world.


*Note: Obviously there are many religious communities that do not live up to this ideal, and some of those non-affiliated people abandoned the religion of their youth because of negative, even traumatic, experiences.