"Give this day our daily bread." - Matthew 6:11
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have been studying our use of pronouns in Facebook posts. They discovered that the use of first-person singular pronouns like I and me is higher among younger users. Older folks tend to use more first-person plural pronouns, like we and our.
James Pennebaker, a social scientist, offers a reason for the discrepancy: "When we are in new situations and are trying to establish an identity, we tend to be more self-focused, which comes out through higher rates of I words."
Of course, not all young people are self-focused, and not all older people are focused on others. Nevertheless, a mark of maturity—at whatever age—is the movement from more I and me language to more we and our language.
So when someone starts on a spiritual path, we can expect references to "my spirituality," or "my faith journey." It is language of being new and starting out. But if one remains devoted to the trinity of "me, myself, and I," eventually it is no longer appropriate. Spiritual maturity comes with being able to use the language of community, including the pronouns we, our, and us.
And so Jesus prays, "Give us this day our daily bread." Who is this us to which Jesus refers? Not just his family or his small circle of friends. And Jesus isn’t merely referring to his followers, either. His is a very big us—the biggest us possible, actually. It encompasses the largest community of all—the whole human family.
God, help me to move—each day—from an I and me approach to life, to the spirit of us and our reflected in Jesus’ prayer.
Martin B. Copenhaver is the president of Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. His most recent book is Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered.