I have lived my whole life trying not to be a burden. I so fear being in the way or that I will be trouble to someone else that I want my tombstone to read: ‘She was not a burden.’ So far, I’ve failed miserably at this goal. Mostly because someone who is trying to stay out of the way ends up being a huge pain in the ass! Why do I say this? Because she ends up overcompensating, bringing too much to the potluck, triple checking whether she has offended someone, worrying that she will step on toes, arriving early, opening the forbidden cupboard or nervously saying the wrong thing.
The irony is that any attempt to avoid being a burden has made me selfish. Selfish because I am too sensitive and neurotic and think that everything is about me. Selfish because I think about the impact I am having ALL THE TIME. It leaves very little space to extend to others in a natural way. It actually impedes the ability to listen to others when they ask for what they really need.
One of my favourite things that I have learned about Jesus is that he showed up where he was needed. As a man who walked on the earth, he did not worry about what others thought of him. He just sussed out what had to be done and did the work. I’m guessing he didn’t obsess over whether folks liked him or not. He went to where he was needed. And he wasn’t necessarily getting his own needs met while he was doing it. I bet he was cold, sick, hungry, tired and in pain but he kept walking. Put simply, he wasn’t selfish.
Now I fear that I am slated for the prison of the selfish. There must be a place somewhere where selfish people go to be punished. People that can’t let go of them selves. That take themselves too seriously. That look to their own needs first.
Here is the thing I have learned about being a mother. It is impossible to be selfish while doing the job well. It is also impossible to do the job well if you don’t take the time you need to recuperate. And so is the conundrum. How does a woman face never-ending demands, minute after minute, to care for other human beings and not lose herself and her sanity entirely? It is simple. She doesn’t.
She has to find a way to build a path of lily pads in the open water of needs that she is responsible for. These lily pads keep her afloat and keep her from drowning. They give her light and remind her to breathe. They help her bloom yellow and bright. Those lily pads keep her alive inside. Yet, in between the lily pads it is essential to swim long and deep. To give up something and sometimes everything, accept discomfort, let go of worldly desires and service the needs of those who depend on us. What I believe we need to do as women is fight for our lily pads. And not necessarily try to find a life without deep sea diving.
I grew up in a time that women learned to speak out. To stop being ashamed about the ways in which we had been abused and belittled, to show that we were equally capable, that we deserved fair treatment. Then it got more extreme and we were Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live, putting up post-it notes on our mirrors and talking to our image saying: ‘I am good enough, smart enough and doggonnit, I like myself!’
When did recognizing that we had needs in the first place turn into a free for all for self-absorbed conduct? How do we know when we’ve said too much, asked for too much? How do we know the difference between taking care of ourselves and being self-centered? Where is the line between helping others and forgetting ourselves?
I do things for others on my own terms, within my own comfort zone and the way that I envision it working (even if it doesn’t work). I suspect that isn’t what Jesus would do. But I try to be kind. I do as much as I can. I make it my business to give back more than I take.
Perhaps this little jumping frog needs to rethink what it means to be selfish or a burden. Thankfully, this is not even my assessment to make.