Saturday June 4, roughly 5 pm
We’re at a youth leader’s retreat camp. I am feeling lonely. I am feeling guilty for feeling lonely.
It is that same feeling that often drives people to extremes to escape it. Some call it boredom or emptiness or unrest. Everyone gets it, but everyone has a different way of dealing with it when it comes. Mine has always been to try to fix it. I am feeling guilty because it is not fixed.
Even though I’ve changed my surroundings, it hasn’t budged. Even though I know right now everything is fine. That I have all that I need. How ungrateful, I’m thinking, how self-centred, how unreasonable.
It would be far too much to let anyone into this feeling, so I do what I usually do and I leave it on the shelf. I can deal with you in solitude, I tell my loneliness. For now, I am with friends. I’m going to go have fun, and you will not get in my way.
Roughly 6 pm
I have broken my left clavicle having too much fun.
I spend the rest of the camp trying to pretend I can function the same. I don’t want to miss out, but I’ll be humiliated if I seem too high maintenance.
Except it is very difficult to hide a broken bone; pale, arm in a sling, wincing at sudden movements. I am not fooling anyone. My friends soon find my stubborn independence clashing with their stubborn care. So,
Sunday June 5, 12:03 am exactly I think
I am forced to admit my need for other people. This is emotionally costly. Why?
“Don’t worry about me – I don’t want to be a hassle – Oh, I owe you – What have I done to deserve this? – How long will it take for them to realize they’re not getting enough out of this?”
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
The king mentality in our cultural moment feeds this idea that we can control and improve every aspect of our lives if only we work hard enough. Extend that thought a little further and suddenly love is not freely given, but another something you earn. Love received breeds anxiety because you feel indebted.
This anxiety hides behind selflessness and is praised. It is also unsustainable.
“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labour:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.”
(Ecclesiastes chapter 4, verses 9-10)
I think the reason so many of us are unhappy, socially anxious, and out of touch with others is because we foster the belief that relationships are transactions. If someone gives to you, you owe something in return. If you don’t or can’t give, nobody should be giving to you. If someone isn’t giving you enough and takes too much, the relationship has no worth – and so on.
There is no place for this in a healthy community.
I’ve been writing it down everywhere so I remember: We need each other. We need each other not despite our jagged edges but because of them. We are messy and unpredictable and human, and we need other people. There is absolutely no escaping this.
No, no one can take your problems away from you. Yes they’d stress themselves out trying. I am not writing about solution-swapping or building some kind of ultra-spiritual collective empathy.
I’m saying sometimes you have a broken bone. No matter how it happened, you will struggle to tie your shoelaces. That might be a little embarrassing, worse still when you need someone else to do it for you. And since you’re the only one looking at your feet, you’re going to have to swallow your pride and ask.
To those identified with Saturday June 4, roughly 5 pm
“For lack of guidance a nation falls,
but victory is won through many advisors”
(Proverbs chapter 11, verse 14)
Say something. It is okay. You actually have no choice if you want things to get better.
Growth doesn’t happen in isolation. You have to humble yourself to the fact that others have something to give you, just as much or even more so than you could give them. No human being can manufacture lasting joy. You alone could not have built any of the good things in your life. You, alone, would not have anything.
The Christian faith depends upon an offer of free relationship with God himself. That is, the God we are modelled after who defines what our relationships ideally look like. That is, freely gifted. Unearned.
This faith begins with acceptance of an all-seeing and all-encompassing love. You can’t predict or control or compartmentalise it. That means you have to get okay with looking like an undignified, unhelpful wreck sometimes. And trusting people when they say they want to be around for that.
Don’t worry, it’s hard for me too. I’m going to keep practicing while my collarbone heals.
Eleesa Jensen is currently studying Psychology and Education at the University of Auckland. She loves to paint, play guitar, and write as a form of worship and to process her thoughts.