We Belong to Each Other

Is not life on earth a drudgery,
its days like those of a hireling?

Job 7:1

Drudgery. It’s really a depressingly tough word. The slog. The grind. The struggle. Drudgery evokes a sense of despair, a great sigh at the difficulty of simply moving forward. We all get it. We understand the word because we’ve all been there, facing the despair of being stuck, facing tremendous resistance, getting knocked down, losing, or enduring ongoing suffering.

Besides its more obvious negatives, drudgery is often accompanied by a sense of profound loneliness. The low moments of our lives tend to feel even lower because we feel alone in them. This is mine. No one else gets it. No one sees how I’m suffering. No one cares. The drudgery becomes desolation in the lonely battle to see light at the end of an endless tunnel. In this place, hope can be so very elusive.

Our country’s plague of “mental health” issues is a plague of drudgery, loneliness, and accompanying despair. Most of us slog through it at one time or another, in one form or other. Those of us who can’t seem to get beyond the drudgery, or have it return to us frequently, find ourselves taking medications to try and stem the tide, or at least steady the ship.

Your great mistake is to act the drama
 as if you were alone. As if life
 were a progressive and cunning crime
 with no witness to the tiny hidden
 transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
 the intimacy of your surroundings. 

David Whyte, from Everything Is Waiting for You

The start to 2024 has been a rocket-ship blasting into life. All of life. In my little world, we’ve seen death, job loss, job frustration, illness, relationship struggles, doubt and even despair. We’ve been stuck, frustrated, lonely, disappointed, angry, hurt, and a host of other struggle-related emotions. In conversation after conversation, I’ve encountered a bit of everything as life has exacted its toll on me and those around me. It’s tough out there.

But David Whyte is on to something. The cycles of struggle come and they go. The rhythm has never changed but each time often feels like the first, and each time we fall into the same pattern. The great mistake is to believe we’re alone, these feelings or struggles are unique, or that no one is watching or cares. On the other side, we see it. We recognize it. We often even know how it feels, but we stand by helplessly, watching it unfold in those around us.

Sometimes we feel like it’s “none of our business.” Sometimes we feel like the struggles are “self-inflicted.” Maybe we feel like there is “nothing we can do.” Perhaps we don’t see it. After all, we’re really, really, busy. But let’s face it, when someone in our world is struggling, it tends to be painful for us, and nobody wants to add pain to their own corner of paradise.

If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.

1 Cor 9:17

The reality is that “they” is “us.” Every person we know is in a battle of one form or another. Every one of us is in a battle of one form or another. If not today, then tomorrow, or next week, or next month. The battles will come and they will go. Sometimes it’s a skirmish, and sometimes it’s total war. We know it to be true. Also true is the fact that the battles of others are in fact, also our battles. The struggles of our loved ones spill over into our lives. The struggles of our peers spill into our lives. The struggles of our clients, our friends, and even our neighbors, spill into our lives.

And our struggles spill into theirs. Yeah, that’s right. Even when we think we’ve buttoned it down, put on the stiff upper lip, or grinned as we bore it, they knew. They knew something was not right. They knew we were hurting. They knew we were struggling. In those moments, we may have even been painful for them, though we couldn’t see it through our own self-absorption.

What is our responsibility to others? What is their responsibility to us? Many take annual mission trips to help the poor, the broken, the needy, and those suffering from poor healthcare systems or lack of resources. It is so wonderful to give of ourselves to those who need a hand. But there is stunning poverty in our own backyards and only part of it is economic. We have the poor in spirit. The hopeless. The downtrodden. The lonely. The frustrated. And, we play those same parts from time to time.

He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”

Mark 1:38

The reality is that we belong to each other. Sure, we have a responsibility to the world. But first and foremost, we have a responsibility to our world. That little corner of humanity right in front of us who often become the grit in the gears of our perfectly operating lives – or at least the smoothly running machine we prefer. No, we don’t always have the time or the energy or the answers or the patience or the will or the right words. But we do have the responsibility.

Duty remains even when things get difficult. Responsibility holds even when its call is painful, thankless, unseen, draining, and seemingly never-ending. Our call to stewardship is not a suggestion, it is a calling.

The amazing thing about belonging to each other is that it doesn’t alway require heroic efforts. Many of the most powerful opportunities appear in the beautiful ordinary of our day-to-day routines. Caring and kindness have a long shelf-life. Sincerity is a deposit that bears interest. Selfless concern or curiosity builds community and trust. Listening is a soul-lifting gift.

Look around you today. Who belongs to you? To whom do you belong? They will stumble. They will struggle. And so will you. Abiding together is playing the long game, and it is our duty to play it fully. Yes, it is going to cost you. Yes, it may be painful or inconvenient. But the price of showing up, of good stewardship, is also forming, and strengthening, you. We belong to each other, and we become more through that belonging. For this are we made.

Your great mistake is to act the drama
 as if you were alone. As if life
 were a progressive and cunning crime
 with no witness to the tiny hidden
 transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
 the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
 even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
 the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
 out your solo voice. You must note
 the way the soap dish enables you,
 or the window latch grants you freedom.
 Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
 The stairs are your mentor of things
 to come, the doors have always been there
 to frighten you and invite you,
 and the tiny speaker in the phone
 is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
 conversation. The kettle is singing
 even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
 have left their arrogant aloofness and
 seen the good in you at last. All the birds
 and creatures of the world are unutterably
 themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte, Everything is Waiting for You

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