A successful entrepreneur who realized that living a life of meaning had nothing to do with wealth

Clare Stober

Clare Stober 1955 –

A college dropout who built up a successful graphic design and advertising agency near Washington, DC, Clare was the perfect example of someone who achieved the American Dream.

Ironically, it was out of that place of financial success that I was able to see through the dream. I had everything I wanted; I could go anywhere; I could buy anything I wanted. I was pulling down $150,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $350,000 today. I had worked very hard to get there, but, deep down, I knew I did not deserve what I was getting in the way of compensation. I knew of countless people of color or people with other economic disadvantages who worked harder than I did and were not making it. That basic inequity made me feel very uncomfortable. And along with that I felt so empty inside.

Fifteen years earlier, I had experienced what I think you could call a conversion. I was working alone in a darkroom (a great place to think), and I remember standing there and being overwhelmed with all the deceitful, selfish, evil things I had done in my short life. Among other things, I had no relationship to speak of with my parents, I had had an affair with a married man, and my own marriage had lasted all of eight months. One by one, I saw the faces of the people whose lives I had ruined in my drive to get ahead.

It was frightening, but even worse was the realization that I was not able to redeem myself. I had tried before, and here I was once again, having left even more trampled people in my wake. What was it going to take? I did not want to have a rerun of this revelation on my deathbed with fifty more years of broken relationships added on top.

Desperate, I begged for help from a God I wasn’t even sure was real. In answer, two alternatives became clear: continue calling my own shots and deal with the messy consequences as best I could, or let go of everything and allow God to take control of my life. The latter was clearly the less glamorous choice, but I went for it.

Desperate, I begged for help from a God I wasn’t even sure was real.

That’s when Clare started the design business with a fellow Quaker. Together, they worked hard for fifteen years and built up a strong business. But, in the process, their dependence on God was slowly replaced by self-reliance, business acumen, and a desire to meet ever higher financial goals. It was another moment of realization that forced Clare once again to choose ­between having a wealthy but stressful life or slowing down and regaining a life of faith and joy in God. Choosing God would mean leaving the agency she had built up and co-owned.

Tim and Kathleen with Sammy behind the Harlem House community

Before leaving, I had to settle affairs with my business partner. This was complicated: he and his wife had once been my close friends and spiritual mentors, but over time we had grown apart.

It took multiple offers and counteroffers to come to a final agreement, but the result was that I ended up paying $50,000 in taxes which my partner should have paid. When I realized how he and his accountant had conspired to crush me, I was so consumed by anger that I couldn’t sleep for days. Sure, it was “only money,” and I didn’t need it at the time. But it was a lot of money, and it was mine. Obviously, the IRS could not be put off, though, so I wrote the check and hoped in a God of vengeance.

Clare says her journey to forgiveness took two years, and was part of her deeper quest for renewal: the search for what Tolstoy calls the “true life.” Along the way, she says, she stumbled on new treasures: vulnerability, humility, trust, and joy.

In the end, the renewal I was looking for cost everything. I sold my antique furniture, my vacation home on Nantucket, and after that, my townhouse in McLean. I dropped my career. My whole life took a new turn as I tried to discern what God wanted me to do. But with every step, I was amazed to realize how quickly the deepest yearnings of my heart were filled. I felt like I was given a clean slate to start life completely over. Beyond that, the experience led me – further than I had ever been led before – out of myself and to community with others, where I am still learning what it means to truly share your life – practically, and in the spirit – with brothers and sisters. This is what God created us to do.

Married over fifty years, Dan and Hanni have nine sons, fifty-two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Married over fifty years, Dan and Hanni have nine sons, fifty-two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

In my former life, I used money as a way of building security against imagined catastrophes, for a comfortable retirement, and to live a good life in beautiful surroundings. When I was a guest of the Bruderhof wrestling with whether or not I was “called” to this way of life, I woke many nights at 3 a.m. with the icy fingers of fear gripping my heart and wondering, “What if the community collapses? What about retirement and insurance?” These were real fears that I had spent all my adult years working to address. The irony is that once I joined the community, I never even thought about those fears again. They completely dissipated.

Life doesn’t stop. No community is perfect. As life-changing as that morning in the darkroom was, I’ve come to realize that if I am going to live authentically, I must continually go through new cycles of repentance and renewal – that there must always be new beginnings. I look forward to them, because that’s when I’m most alive.

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The Book

A Window into a Christian Community at 100 Years

With photography by British photojournalist Danny Burrows, this 300-page hardcover book celebrates what is possible when people take a leap of faith. It will inspire anyone working to build a more just, peaceful, and sustainable future.

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