“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
― Mother Teresa
In my last blog post: Surviving the Storm I shared some of the story of the last 3 months of my life. During the post I wrote about the journey I had been on following a fall off a ladder which, for a while, left me with a debilitating brain & spinal fluid injury which stopped me in my tracks for a number of weeks. (And included a two and a half week stay in a local hospital).
It was an immensely challenging time for us as a family. Suddenly I found myself lying in bed pretty much all day, for 10 weeks, and if I did get up, for a minimal amount of time (usually 10-30mins) I was so lightheaded, dizzy, uncomfortable & in pain that I couldn’t function normally and quickly had to return to bed. Even lying in bed I battled various unpleasant symptoms.
My husband Matt, whose job can take him all over the country, as well as being one of the leaders at our local church, suddenly lost the day to day support of his wife (and our girls (age 8 & 10) mum) and had to take on many of my roles whilst coping with his own. Anyone who knows what a ‘full’ life we normally lead knows what a challenge that was for him. One to which he stepped up to and executed so well and calmly amidst a very challenging time.
However, in this season one thing we knew early on is that we could not face this alone – without our daily life falling apart.
We needed help.
We needed support.
We needed others.
We could not cope on our own.
It’s a humbling process when you can no longer manage day to day life on your own. Having to ask for and accept help from others so that life can somehow keep moving forward each day.
For this season we could no longer be the ones to offer help. Instead we had to accept others help daily. And that brings a new level of humility as well as a new level of gratefulness for family, friendship and community.
It was the:
of so many people around us that made our storm bearable. This combined with the inner strength and peace that came from our deep relationship with God allowed us to push through our weaknesses and somehow weather the storm.
We are not meant to be alone.
We are created and built to be together in family and community.
We are built to show and share love even beyond our natural families.
It is so sad that our western societies often place individualism over community. I believe that individualism is often a fruit of selfishness and self preservation and it robs us of the joys of true community. Our societies have lost so much community spirit and although various people attempt to revive it, it can be a challenging battle to fight. People are so busy with their own lives & families that we can easily loose a sense of community on a wider level.
Although myself and my husband are big advocates of community; sharing our lives and journeying together through life with others through local church and in our general lives, the last three months revealed that even after years of advocating community we too could still be too self-sufficient, individualistic and prideful in our own thinking.
How did we recognise this?
Simply that we soon discovered that early on during my illness we didn’t find it easy that suddenly the roles reversed and so many people had to help us in so many ways. That we were the ones struggling, the ones in need of help and support.
I realised that I was so used to being self-sufficient, getting on with life, facing challenges, keeping going and often the one helping others that it was a challenge when we became the ones that people rallied around to help and support.
You can feel weak and helpless, a bit of a burden to people who are already so busy with their own lives and commitments. That you are letting others down by them having to find the extra time and energy to cover your roles.
Matt and I are great advocates of grace and generosity. We believe in giving without expecting a return, loving whether or not someone is deserving and serving others without expecting anything back. We constantly do our best to teach and model all this within our church community.
Why then can it be such a challenge for us to receive others help and generosity ourselves?
Please don’t misunderstand me: we were utterly blessed by it. It touched us deeply to have so many people look after our children, get them to and from school, prepare us beautiful meals, shower us with flowers, cards and gifts, clean our house, step into our roles at work, church and school and offer up prayers and words of support.
We were and are so very grateful and thankful for the support of so many wonderful friends and family. It was a lifeline at a very difficult time.
However, I realised that sometimes we may not naturally allow others the joy of giving and helping us because of our own pride and self sufficiency that says we are OK and can manage, even when in reality we are struggling. This is often because we do not want to trouble other people and so we think we are helping them by not letting them share in our struggles.
Thankfully in our case we have friends and family who know us well enough to know we needed help regardless. We hardly needed to ask because the offers came pouring in which was truly a God send and a wonderful blessing. However, we still learnt that people will not always have room to be the blessing they desire to be if we do not allow them into our weaknesses and struggles. One of the reasons we don’t always let people in is because it is not easy to be vulnerable.
It is not easy for self sufficient people to be the ones in need.
Perhaps many of us are too used to being individualistic and self sufficient.
Maybe we are more a product of our western society than we first thought.
I have realised that my own self sufficiency can actually get in the way of us building the community that I believe God created us to live in. And that community is not healthy until we begin to lay down our own self sufficiency and learn to both GIVE and to RECEIVE with grace and humility.
When you are used to giving, it is not always easy to receive. On the reverse, some people are so used to being in need and receiving that they do not find it easy to give. Which is a challenge, because we need to be doing both for community to work.
Our own individualism and pride can stop community working as it should, if we do not allow others to share in our STRUGGLES as well as our VICTORIES.
As I wrote in a recent blog post about the anniversary of my Mums death I believe that:
Sometimes our hearts need to be exposed.
Our weaknesses need to be seen.
I believe it is important because it’s often our vulnerabilities that bring us the greatest connection to other people. It’s in our weaknesses that we realise:
That we all need others.
That we are not built to live life alone.
That pride & self-sufficiency are the enemies of true community.
That if we want to be part of a community that we need to let people into our lives – warts and all.
The challenge of community is to become people who are open about our lives and will choose to both GIVE and RECEIVE graciously.
The beauty of humanity is majestically displayed when we are loving & serving one another. For it is love that creates real community. At the heart of love is humility & generosity. And it is humility & generosity that breaks down pride, individualism and self sufficiency.
Which, in turn, opens the way for true community.
We may impress people by our strengths; but we connect with them through our vulnerabilities. – Nicky Gumbel
How can we allow others to share in our lives in a way that builds true community? Do you find it easier to give or to receive? How can we embrace the humility needed to model healthy community to others?
Community is not healthy until we begin to lay down our own self sufficiency and learn to both GIVE and to RECEIVE with grace and humility.