I’m excited to see this going mainstream: the best we can do for our loved ones is to try to love them. We don’t have to call the police. We don’t have to recite all our commitments and things pulling at our time (I’m not alone in despising the “I’m busy” excuse). We don’t have to “just” pray for them, especially since it is an expressly Christian call, not to be passive in the face of suffering – that of our friend’s, that of our enemy’s, our own.
I’ve not been passive in my suffering, but I’ve been too aggressive, which I addressed in last week’s post (in the migration to a new domain name, this post and two others have been – hopefully temporarily – misplaced; I’ll link it if/when we locate them). I’ve both lacerated friends, people I love when I’ve not gotten what I needed (without stopping to consider what it is I actually need beyond everything that hurts, which is everything, to stop hurting) and I’ve worked really hard at taking care of everything myself. Self-reliance is killing us, and a culture that shames its constituents into ever-more-insular individualism is emotionally abusive.
I’ve trumpeted our need for each other largely out of fear that I will be forgotten or otherwise excluded from the little bundles of humanity that create belonging and I’ve done it so long I assume I’m the only one who’s alone.
I’m lonely but I have trouble leaving my house.
But maybe I’m not alone in my aloneness.
I’m lonely and it’s made me fairly selfish. I feel I must hoard the love I do get from others, which, as it turns out, rusts my giver joints petrified – not the love, the hoarding. I seem to shut down, maybe to avoid lashing out in my anxiety and already-stagnant grief. Maybe my friends are feeling alone, too, and I’ve not reached out. I’ve simply started hunkering down to get through what so far – the prophecy has been thus far correct – has indeed been the hardest year of my life.
Maybe I’m not alone in my aloneness.
How can we move from saying we need to be there to actually being there for each other? When I stopped saying “I’ll pray for you” – it was a go-to phrase when I didn’t know what else to say or do in the face of a friend’s pain – it wasn’t because I wanted to withhold prayer. (Honestly, I’ve been struggling pretty massively with prayer lately and can only manage a few brief ones each day, if that). It was because I wanted to stop withholding myself.
I had “coffee” with a friend a few weeks ago and it was pretty refreshing to hear that his take on relationships and mine were similar – right relating with other human beings is itself worship. It’s not “just” that we need each other, though that’s all over Scripture, too, mostly notably in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This is often read at weddings, which I think is more evidence for our culture’s stubborn and systematic evisceration of friendships, since I don’t really see this passage being about spouses, but friends or even coworkers. (And that last verse, when it suddenly switches to talking about three instead of two? I take this to mean that we can’t rely on God to do our relationships for us. We have to present to make that unbreakable cord.)
But it’s not “just” that we are neurologically and biologically, spiritually and emotionally reliant on others for our very survival. God puts right (or righting) relationships before worship. “Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23). If you can’t, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18.)
Lest I prove myself a hypocrite, I’ve got some work to do.