Thursday, November 5, 2009

On Independence and Inconvenience

I am in a pensive mood tonight (and again, knitting progress has been minimal, which I wholly attribute to my lack of classes this semester i.e. no lectures to knit through) so be warned, this will be a rather meandering blog post.  I'm also positive that this post will sound less impressive than it did in my head when I composed it on the bus ride home from school, but perhaps you can make it sound more grand as you read it.  Just imagine it being read in the voice of the Movie Trailer Narrator or perhaps in a posh British accent.

So, what was I pondering?  I was pondering what it is that makes me so unwilling to inconvenience people.  I do not think that this trait is limited to myself only, but something more ingrained within Canadian culture.  I would rather inconvenience myself a great deal than inconvenience someone else a little bit.  I ponder this as I need to find a ride to a retreat tomorrow, yet find myself hesitant to ask people that are going, lest they feel like they HAVE to transport me and in the process are consequently annoyed.  Now, I'm sure that most of them would be more than happy to drive me if they have room, and yet I find myself thinking about looking up bus times and otherwise avoiding the necessity of being dependent upon someone else.

Because, let's face it, that's what this is really about.  Dependence.  Our culture places a very high value on being independent, and we push our children from a young age to learn how to embrace independence.  While I believe it is healthy to be independent, we have glorified it to such an extent that we no longer know how to be dependent on each other.  However, dependence is vital to community.  People are not meant to live isolated lives, supplying all of their own needs.  This is something that many North American churches in particular seem to have forgotten  (for those of you new to this blog, I speak in the context of the church as it is my primary community).  We see the Bible verses exhorting us to serve others and contribute to their needs, yet when it comes to ourselves we say, "Oh, I'm ok.  Really, it's nothing.  You don't need to go out of your way for me."  And in not allowing others to help and serve us, we miss out on a great opportunity.  Because as we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and dependent, we put ourselves in a position of humility.  We are no longer trusting in ourselves, and as we allow other people to serve and honour us in that position of vulnerability, it builds bonds of trust and friendship that are deep and lasting.  It also makes us more sensitive and attentive to the needs of others so that we can serve them joyfully with a heart filled with gratitude for the ways that we ourselves have been helped in our times of dependence.  And most importantly, it teaches us in a real and practical way how to be dependent on God, because he will always honour the person who positions themselves in humility.

This is really me talking to myself now (or perhaps the Holy Spirit talking to me as I ponder) because honestly I have SUCH a hard time with this.  I dread being dependent on others and I'll go leagues out of my way to avoid it.  For example, when my sister and I flew back here after Christmas holidays last year, our plane got in at 11pm.  The airport is approximately an hour's drive from where I was living at the time.  I made my excuses.  "It's too late for anyone to be able to drive all the way out there to pick us up."  "My roommate who has a car won't be back till the next day."  "Everyone else who has cars, I just don't know them well enough to feel comfortable asking them to drive out and get me."  And so, I didn't even attempt to locate a ride home.  As a result we had a painful all-night journey that involved sleeping a few hours at the airport, taking a night bus all the way downtown, getting accosted by strangers at the bus stop, waiting in the rain and foul-smelling slush with our luggage getting wetter by the minute, taking three more buses until finally arriving home at 6:30am, just in time for me to change and head out to my first class that started at 8:30.  It was terrible.  I could have saved myself (and my sister) so much trouble if only I'd put down my pride and my independence, and asked someone to pick us up.

Let me give you another story as an illustration of how this attitude is part of our very culture.  A friend of mine, let us refer to him as S, who moved here from Jordan told me this story (which I may not remember 100% correctly, so forgive me if I'm fuzzy on some of the specifics).  Right after and his family moved to Canada, they got an apartment, and introduced themselves to their neighbours in the apartment building.  One of these neighbours was an older man who had lived in that apartment building for 10 years.  Now S casually mentioned to this man that he only needed to come by and ask if the man needed anything.  Shortly after, this man suffers some sort of severe health failure (I forget whether it was heart or lung-related) and as he's in dire peril, he does not go to any of his longtime friends, but he comes to S.  S drops everything that he's doing to bring this man to the hospital.  While he was in the hospital for the next week S went to visit this man nearly every day, though he had known him only a very short time.  It could have been a complete stranger, and S would have done the same.  Muslim culture places a high value on loving one's neighbour, and they actually live that out.  In our culture we're very good at being nice to our neighbours, but in the process we have lost track of what it means to love them.  We expect people to be independent, and things that inconvenience us elicit complaints.

So how do we as a culture, and more locally, we as a church, combat this destructive form of independence that keeps us apart from each other?  I think the first step is to learn ourselves how to be dependent, to keep us from being prideful in our independence and what we've accomplished, and to keep us aware of  the courage it takes to ask others for help not knowing whether they'll say yes or no.  The second thing we can do is to constantly verbally let the people around us know that we are available and willing to offer help when it is needed.  We can learn a lesson from my friend S and make sure to communicate to others that they can come to us if they need anything.  Even if we can't provide the help the person needs, we may be able to direct them to someone who can.  Often we just assume, "Oh, of course So-And-So knows I'd help them if they needed it" but likely So-And-So does not know unless we clearly tell them so.  The third very critical thing we can do is to avoid complaining about helping people.  Even if we really are annoyed by that friend that keeps on asking us to borrow Y or do X for them, the minute we complain about it we signal to everyone that hears us that we don't like helping and don't want to be bothered, keeping those people from coming to us about anything in the future.  It takes a lot fewer words to tear down trust than to build up trust.  Sometimes it's just really hard to find the joy in serving others that we're supposed to have, but I think that learning to be dependent ourselves will nurture that within us, and that even if we serve others purely out of obedience to God and nothing else, he will honour that as well and show us that joy.  It all comes back to love.  How far are we willing to go to love others?  God has already gone the whole way in his love for us.  If we're serious about being a community that lives out the love of God, we can't be complacent about it.  Love is active.  Love slips past all our defenses and boundaries and shows us the world in a way we've never seen it before.

Still, it's tough.  As I tell myself these things, I still am faced with the imminent decision of who to ask for a ride, and I have to fight against my willful independence.  The difference between knowing and doing....well, that is part of what God is teaching me this season.  It's all part of the journey, right?  One step at a time.

If you've made it to the end of this post, bravo!  Perhaps you found all of this uninteresting and inapplicable, and you are certainly free to take it or leave it, since this is primarily my own meanderings to myself, but perhaps you have found it helpful and so I pray that you will be encouraged and blessed.

(And I really will have some knitting to blog about next time! Honest!)


Susan said...

What a remarkable post, Sarah. Thank you.
I started commenting on this and it turned into a blog post of it's own.

Carapace said...

Good for you! No, seriously. I can't put enough enthusiasm into text, here.

I've had serious disabilities my whole life, so the whole "independence" thing never meant to me what it did to others. I'm lucky in being in a nice part of the world for it; and you know what? People LOVE helping each other out! We're made to enjoy feeling useful! The hardest part about having a disability is that others often refuse to let me help, to the extent I can.
And being made aware of it, I've seen how dependent people really are, all the time, on the communities they're in. But the constant emphasis on never being dependent ever ever ever makes people feel like failures when they need anything-- instead of being able to enjoy the gift of community with gratitude.
A society that denies its interconnection won't last long. I hope you'll find a way to be less ashamed of your humanity, and more happy in your dependence.:)

Aesderina said...

beautifully written Sarah.
As someone who lives between 2 cultures, I see excatly what you are trying to say and I'm sorry you had such a terrible time last Christmas at the bus depot.
I think we are almost opposite.. you're not blunt enough and I am too blunt, I also am trying to find the happy medium.
You have to also take into account that many of your friends would not mind at all, if asked I'm sure they wouldn't think 2 seconds about it because that's what friends mean.

Ilix said...

Fantastic post. I loved the story about your friend. For all the fighting in the world, sometimes it really takes another way of thinking aobut something to make it all come around. Thank your for reminding me of that.

I belive that "Carpe Diem" also fits in this idea. As a friend of mine once put it..... don't say why do something, say why not.

Jennifer said...

Sarah, I am embarrassed I haven't visited your blog more often. But, I am super glad I chose today to take a peek. This is an absolutely AWESOME post. I was about to go to bed, but couldn't stop reading! Well written... but, I shouldn't be so surprised :) You are an amazing woman. Can't wait to see you in a few weeks.