Carry Each Other

In Anne Marie Miller’s book Permission to Speak Freely, Miller describes a meeting with Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the mental health non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms. Over coffee, Tworkowski says something like this:

“So there’s this song U2 does called ‘One,’ and there’s a line in it that says, ‘We get to carry each other.’ I read an interview recently where Bono talked about how it makes him mad when people sing that line wrong. They sing ‘We have to carry each other’ instead of ‘We get to carry each other.” So basically, he said if you sing it like we have to carry each other, we’re missing the privilege of it. We don’t have to — we get to. It’s an obligation, and stretch, and it takes so much effort. But in the end, it’s a privilege that we get to carry each other.

Let’s just say, in recent days, I’ve seen a whole lot of people — a metroplex of millions, in fact — get to carry each other.

Because on Thursday, July 7, I officiated the evening prayer liturgy at my church, mentioned then the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and afterward lit two candles there in the chapel. It was one small way of carrying their souls up to God, my prayers a little like the smoke rising from the candles.

That night, I could hear helicopters and sirens from my home about two miles from downtown Dallas, where a tragic shooting was unfolding. My housemates and I sat together on our couch and watched the news, dumbstruck, as the surreal events on the screen took place mere miles away.

thanksgiving squareAnd, on Friday, July 8, as my whole city grieved, I headed back to the church for a semi-spontaneous noonday requiem, similar to the various services and vigils cropping up all over town. We sang hymns together, heard a homily together, cried with and communed with and carried each other.

A friend from far away called Friday and asked how I was doing, and I said: “There’s just a sense of heaviness sitting on my heart and over my city.”

Heaviness is the only way I know to describe it. And, what do we do when we see someone carrying something heavy? We help each other. Almost instinctively, we help each other with heavy boxes and bags. It’s only natural, then, that we should help each other with heavy hearts.

I see this in the Bible when the apostle Paul exhorts us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Or when the gospels tell a story of people coming to Jesus, “bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men” — and when they can’t get to Jesus they keep on carrying the paralyzed fellow up to the roof, bust through the ceiling, and lower the dude down to Jesus.

I see this in the writing life when I’m working on writing a book-length memoir, which is a project I’ve been pursuing with some degree of diligence this summer. The thing is: memoirs are personal. The word “memoir” comes from the same roots as the word “memory,” after all. It’s memory after memory after memory — hard and humorous and hopefully insightful — all linked together at least somewhat logically by the end. But, until that pretty, paperback end comes (if it comes) the process is heavy. It’s more of my own stories than I’ve ever carried at one time, in one Word document. And, somehow, maybe because of Anne Miller and Jamie Tworkowski and Bono, I’ve decided to let people in my life carry these stories with me. Not because they have to, but because they get to.

When I finish drafting a chapter, it gets emailed to the person of my choice. Not for editing yet or even proofreading. Just for carrying. Chapter 2 goes to my priest, chapter 4 maybe to my mom, chapter 11 definitely to my therapist, and so on. That way, I’m not loading all the stories onto any one, single person, which could help me avoid dependency and help supporters avoid compassion fatigue. Moreover, this spreading-the-load creates community.

Story by story, chapter by chapter, when you have to hold the heavier things in your life, which sometimes you will, here’s what I hope: I hope you have a community, a Dallas, a church, a family. And in that community? I hope you get to carry each other.

“One love, one blood, one life, you got to do what you should.
One life with each other: sisters, brothers.
One life, but we’re not the same.
We get to carry each other, carry each other.
One, one.”
~ U2, “One”

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“Peace So Unexplainable”

There’s this song I’ve heard and sung pretty often at church in the last year or so called “Good Good Father.” In the bridge it says this:

Oh it’s love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think

Funny thing though: Some months ago, in a season of some depression, I found myself singing “peace so unobtainable” instead of “unexplainable.” Unobtainable just rolled off the tongue — rhymed and everything. It fit in the lyrics and fit in my experience of the human condition at the time. The reality is peace is so often unobtainable.

IMG_2402Then, last week, I found myself singing at last the songwriters’ intended lyric about peace so unexplainable. Because the bout of depression had long since lifted, the sun was shining, the song was soaring. And because I believe the reality in Christ is that peace is mysteriously actually obtainable.

It’s unexplainable perhaps, as the song suggests, but I want to explain a little how I’ve stumbled into some approximation of peace.

Purpose. As psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.'” So why do I live? Why do you live? For what purpose are you living and breathing and adding things to your to-do list today? I believe we can work in ways that serve others. We can practice hobbies in ways that add beauty to the world around us. We can attend to family, friends, and acquaintances in ways that cultivate care for one another. So much easier said than done, I know, but seriously: It’s actions like visiting my grandma in the hospital, going on a mission trip to Belize, or opening my mind and my writing to justice issues like women’s rights that have pulled me out of my own self, into a sense of purpose, and toward a semblance of peace.

People. Blogger Jeremy Clive Huggins has said this: “All the people I love, I trust, I want to be around, all of them answer, with varying volume, ‘yes’ to the following basic question: ‘Will you be there for me?’ I’ve come to believe it’s the question that houses all my other questions, fears, and longings.” And I agree. When questions, fears, and longings pull us from peace, people can push us politely back toward peace by saying “I’ll be there for you.” People — even professional helpers like counselors and pastors — may not have answers per se to our questions, fears, and longings, but anyone — any professional or parent, peer or professor — can say, “I’ll be there for you.”

Practice. Having a sense of purpose and having the support of people does not come from one service trip or one social experience — not one a year and probably not even one a month. We understand that athletic ability comes not from the occasional pick-up soccer game but from practice. And so it is with any lifestyle. I’ve been practicing (with admittedly fluctuating commitment) the actions of regularly showing up both physically and mentally at work, serving at church, carving out pockets of time for writing and reading, praying with and for my housemates, and meditating on a couple of Psalms that my spiritual director has recommended.

Over time, thanks be to God, I swear this kind of practice of pursuing purpose and pursuing people points toward peace. It’s ultimately unexplainable, yes, as the song says. But it’s not unobtainable.

By Prayer and Petition

I started a petition once. Just once.

It started on a Sunday in 2010, shortly after I had entered a very stressful season. The preacher at church that morning talked about a portion of Philippians 4 that says this:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Do not be anxious about anything? Seriously? How?

I paid half-attention to the preacher and pondered practical ways to possibly “not be anxious about anything.” I needed God, but I also needed something I could see, touch, experience. And I believe in a God, who in the incarnation of Christ, offers hope we can see, touch, experience. So I thought about the rest of the verse — the part after the simplistic snippet about how we should “not be anxious about anything.”

Prayer. Petition. Thanksgiving.

I pictured a petition and the parts it involves: a statement of current conditions, a proposal for change, a list of signatures.

So, strange as it sounds, a petition emerged saying something like this: “I’m stressed. I propose a change in my commitment to self-care and pursuit of social support.”

Then, came the list of signatures. It was a slightly awkward but ultimately empowering process (as petitioning perhaps tends to be) seeking signatures on this thing from anyone who had expressed support of this issue in their various ways — anyone from my therapist to the pastor who had referred me to the therapist to the college classmate who had run into me at a coffee shop and lent a listening ear.

The signatures lent power to the petition. They pushed me to pray, to give thanks, to believe that perhaps with all that help clearly available I actually could “not be anxious about anything.” So, in time, the petition came to pass.

I’ve been thinking about the petition lately, even thinking about making a new one or adding signatures to the old one. Because, a commitment to self-care is something I believe in. And, it’s taken me a long time to learn this, but it’s something that many people believe in.

Many people believe in the value of my life and health and vitality. And many people believe in the value of your life and health and vitality.

I wonder: If you made a petition proposing a change to your personal wellbeing…who would sign? Who would your supporters be? If you’re not sure, it’s something worth working on. Because, with support, in time, your petition for peace can come to pass. I’m sure of it — so sure that I’d sign a statement to that effect.

 

Galatians 6 on Compassion (With Contributions From Health Psychology and Bono)

“Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ….Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry his own load.” ~ Galatians 6:2-5

I’ve often found it contradictory for Paul to suggest that we “carry each other’s burdens” but 3 verses later state that “each one should carry his own load.”

Helpfully, someone once pointed out that those phrases use different words — “burdens” vs. “load.” I don’t know what the original Greek meant (maybe someday?!), but in context the words might mean something like this:

To use the terminology I’ve been learning in Health Psychology, the “zero” point would be homeostasis — the point at which we’re under a reasonable amount of stress. “Load” would be the homeostatic load — consisting of the things that we can reasonably manage ourselves and should, therefore, carry ourselves. And “burden” would be the allostatic load — consisting of “chronic exposure to fluctuating or heightened neural or neuroendocrine responses that result from repeated or chronic stress” (Taylor). Burden, understood this way, is a problem often beyond the control of the burdened individual and is not something that should be carried alone.

What does this say about compassion?

I recently asked a friend who teaches in the inner city how to emotionally/spiritually handle situations when her students disclosed information about personal, violent, or traumatic experiences. It could be easy to get so attached that your heart breaks and you’re not helpful. But it could also be easy, especially in the long-term, to get so detached that your heart hardens and you’re not helpful.

The trick, my friend said, is to do neither — to not get too attached and to not get too detached. To not carry loads and burdens but to carry burdens, knowing that it’s not our hands carrying the burdens but the hands of Christ using us to be his hands and feet. And to pray. Definitely to pray.

What it boils down to is this:
1) Consider if the situation is a load or a burden.
2) If it’s someone’s load: maybe help, but they do need to exercise some responsibility. If it’s your load: maybe seek/accept help, but you do need to exercise some responsibility.
3) If it’s someone’s burden: help them carry it! If it’s your burden: let someone help you carry it!

That’s the beauty of community. “We get to carry each other…”

(yeah…awkward screenshot)

An Indo Board and a Lesson in Servant Leadership

For the last few days, a few friends and I have had access to an indo board, a balance trainer that looks like this:

We weren’t exactly sure what to do with the indo board (especially me since I have very minimal physical coordination). But we enjoyed sitting, laying, and standing on it nonetheless, accompanied each time by falls, giggles, and luckily no injuries.

Late last night, while my friend Lucille was trying to stand on the board, I got up off the couch and stood in front of her so that she could steady herself with my arms and shoulders.

“I’ll help you stand,” I found myself saying, “even if I can’t stand like that myself.”

3 things strike me about the implications of that statement:
1. That’s what Jesus did. He helped people back to life and wholeness, knowing that he was going to die. Christ “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself to death — even death on a cross!” (Phillipians 2:7-8).

2. That’s what Christ’s followers are called to do — to help others stand even if we can’t, to “in humility value others above [ourselves], not looking to [our] own interests but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3). I don’t think this means that we’ll never stand but that we’ll stand precisely by helping others stand. In other words, we’ll be greater by being less (John 3:30).

3. Practically speaking, this metaphor challenges and encourages me regarding leadership positions and jobs both in the present and future. Since I (like many people) tend to desire recognition and promotion, I hope that throughout my work life I can keep with me the image of being at my best by assisting someone else to be at their best, helping others stand even if it seems that I don’t get to stand.