We Won’t Let Ourselves Go

Henri Nouwen 1We often feel that we have to be everything to a person in need.

We have to say something. Do something. Perform something. Fix something.

If I’m honest with myself, I sometimes expect one person will be everything to me when I’m in need. But I don’t always like being honest in that way.

The women who sat across from me in my office was tear-stained and shaking. Her story was one of financial brokenness, rebellion from her troubled children, and job loss. No money, no reliable family, no work — she felt totally alone. And I felt totally useless to her situation.

I wanted to be able to hand her a wad of cash to pay off rent and bills; yank her kids to do a smart 180 turn towards better choices; and find her another job. What could I give? A few bags of food and a couple of listening ears. Even then, it felt like the most miserable of offerings. Please don’t misread my frustration as an attempt to hijack this woman’s own struggles and trials.

I’m sharing because we all feel like complete failures in sharing common pain and grievances.

Perhaps we’re supposed to.

We can’t be everything to everyone; we aren’t even meant to be everything to just one person (not even ourselves).

And I have to bear in mind that what I expect in a “friend” may be dramatically different than what you need in a friend. As a deep, shy introvert, I need to know you and trust you as a close lifelong “anam cara” before I call you “friend”. As one who is sometimes naive and gullible, I often mistake intentions and expressions from others thinking they want to give more than they really can.

But a friend can be a listening ear, too. We offer who we are, and pray the connection between us gives more life than we feel in the moment. A friend can be a journeying companion, sailing together the waves and breakers that soak us and drag us down. A friend can be a faithful person who refuses to give up on us, even if they let us break free for a time. A friend might even be one who races ahead for awhile, leaving us thinking we’re abandoned. But until we realize the damage we’re doing, dragging both of us down to drown, the other person helps us see our mutual value by leaving.

That’s hard friendship.

Can’t say I’ve discovered all of what it means to be a friend; to be a fellow sojourner; to be a companion; to be who I need to be for the person in front of me. But I do know we aren’t meant to be it all. We can’t.

The woman eventually graciously accepted her bags of food, dried her eyes, thanked me and left. Will she return? If she needs to. She knows better than I do who she needs on her journey. I hope in our brief time together we were able to bail at least a bit of water from her sinking ship.

I know her courage and resilience spurred life into me. And I’m grateful.

As always, there’s a song to go with. I’ll often have music playing in my office when I meet with people. Enter the Haggis’ “Down With the Ship” was playing; so I’ll share it with you. Quite appropriate for today.

Down With the Ship – Enter the Haggis

Like ships in a squall we rise and we fall
We’re plotting our course throught waves
Some masts are tall with sails so strong
Others are tossed in the gale
We try to stay dry with salt in our eyes
No moment to rest or complain
The moon isn’t far a clear sky and stars
Red sky at morn on your tail

I’m not going to stand on the end of the pier
I’m not going to let you go down with the ship
Raise up your anchor it’s time to set sail
And I’m not going to let you go down

Like ships we were made to dance o’er our graves
One false move and we could be thrown
Buried alive before our due time
To rest at sixty below
So jibe while you can if there’s danger ahead
Stay on your course if you will
I’ll throw you a line as waves start to rise
Bail as your ship starts to fill

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