Years ago, I took a great big leap of faith and moved from Berkeley, CA to Richmond, VA to follow my call to ministry. I arrived in Richmond and frantically started trying to get my life in order: find an apartment, buy new stuff (I moved with a suitcase and 10 FedEx boxes, I was a little unprepared), figure out where everything was and more. Members of the congregation repeatedly offered their help and I repeatedly thanked them profusely and said it wasn’t necessary. I could take care of myself. After a few weeks of this I received an e-mail from the senior minister that said that everyone at this church was ready to welcome me, whenever I was ready to let them.
Something about that phrasing struck me. It occurred that I was not just affecting my own life in my reticence to seek assistance; I was preventing others from offering me that assistance. I was withholding the opportunity for others to be of use, something they very much wanted to be. And so I tried to unbend. I accepted assistance as it was offered, as I would want my own offers of assistance to be accepted.
This was a small thing that I allowed other people to do for me. I did not need, as some do, round the clock physical assistance, or help in a time of great distress. I would have managed on my own, at least this time. But our behavior works in patterns, much as we might sometimes like to deny that this is so. As it is in the small moments of our lives, so it usually is in the large. If we cannot accept help when there is no pressing need, what makes us think we will be able to accept it when there is?
Why is it so hard to accept help? Harder still to ask for it?
Now, I know that I tend towards high levels of independence, that I am more inclined than many to seek my own way, to try to forge my own path. And yet. I have the sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one. It has been observed by many, both within and outside of our congregations, that Unitarian Universalists have a marked tendency towards self-sufficiency and individualism. Call this what you may, anti-authoritarianism, independence of mind, rampant individualism, it all has its underpinnings in a belief that we can do it ourselves, and that if we can, we should.
Yet the idea that we can truly do anything on our own is false on its face. From the moment we are born to the moment we die we need each other. Even the most self-sufficient among us probably lives in a home that someone else built, eats food that someone else tended, uses goods that someone else made. We cannot escape our connections from each other, what a lonely, hard world it would be if we tried. Yet we hear that whisper in our ear. Rely on yourself; to do anything else is weak. To seek the help of others is to admit a failing in yourself. To be anything less than everything means that you are not enough.
In our tradition, we say that you are enough. You with all of your gifts and strengths, all of your challenges and weaknesses, you are enough. And you are. But being enough is not being all. When we come together, when we fit our strengths to another’s weakness, and when they fit their strength to our weakness, then, then we are finding the truth that underlies our faith that we are enough: we are not alone.
Edward Everett Hale, in Reading #457 in out silver hymnal, reminds us that:
I am only one.
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
We recite this reading, and we focus on the something that I can do our own agency. But let us also remember that we cannot do everything. That sometimes, we need help, that there is something that someone else can do that we cannot, or at least that we cannot do alone.
And what a gift it can be to acknowledge this. A gift to ourselves, to let ourselves be as we are, rather than as we think we should be. To acknowledge the places where we are not enough, and a gift to others, the gift of allowing them to do something, of letting them help.
In faith, Rev. Aija