As the news of my wife’s cancer spread throughout my parish, more and more people came to me expressing their desire to help in any way possible. Every offer of aid, however, was dismissed. I would rest upon the sham of my self-sufficiency. Before others I was strong; privately I cried more nights than not. To the congregation I stood strong in faith, at home, I questioned God’s presence.
For whatever reason, I developed the habit of muscling my way through difficult times like a lone soldier. Never would I speak about the help I needed; never would I disclose how discouraged I felt. The word “fine” was my shield, and when people no longer accepted this rallying cry, I changed it to “oh (sufficient pause), I’m doing o.k.” I got very good at navigating these conversations even though I knew it was all a lie.
The thing about self-sufficiency, however, is that it means that we end up facing everything alone. The belief that we must rely on our own strength or mastery means that we have no place to turn when those things fail. And let’s be honest, there are times when those things fail. Telling ourselves that we must go through our discouragement or despair alone condemns us to a very lonely and agonizing journey.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. The community of faith is a blessed reality because it is filled with people wanted to help. We don’t have to face our discouragements alone. In fact, this is the very reason for the community of faith, to hold us up when we can’t find our footing; to walk with us when we feel distant or lost; to pray on our behalf we cannot find the words ourselves. Relying on the community of faith is not a sign of weakness, it is a bold and radical act of trust.
Eventually, I got to the point where I was so physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted, that I just couldn’t pretend anymore. So, I decided to trust the community that surrounded me. Rather than listening to the lie that told me I had to rely on myself, I chose to accept the offers of help. It was a stretch at first. It went directly against the life-long habits I had grown comfortable with. Eventually, someone stood in the doorway to my office and asked; “Kyle, what can I do?” I looked at him for what I thought was an uncomfortable amount of time. I swallowed, and sheepishly responded; “Could you come and mow my lawn?”
It was uncomfortable to disclose my need for help. It felt awkward and out of place. Didn’t this person have better things to do than mow my lawn? How could I be so foolish! I condemned myself for my selfishness. But that Saturday, he came. There was no frustration in him, no judgement, just the offer of loving help. As I watched him push the mower up and down my lawn, I had a deeper experience of Christ’s love that I have ever experienced.
Community, true community, forces you outside of yourself. We are stretched beyond our own comforts and self-protections. It is this embracing of our deep brokenness that makes fellowship of faith so transformative. Paul writes that “if one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). The Christian community reveals itself as it holds the raw need of one of its members – thus holding its own vulnerability. In the church, we are all in the same place. We all have experienced times of rich blessing, and times of lonely isolation. The Christian community pushes past the thin veneer of fellowship based on shared pleasantries and embraces the real and uncomfortable places of human life.
What would it look like to let other people care for you? How might you drop your guard and disclose your need? Letting people walk with you in the place of need or discouragement doesn’t have to involve much. My lawn took all of 5 minutes to mow. For you, it might be the gift of a casserole, your name on prayer list, or a simple embrace. In the end, the what does not matter as much as the who. Believing we must face things alone cuts us off from others, and from the Lord. When we drop our protective guard, however, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and real, we meet Jesus in the most profound of places.