Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Lean on me when you’re not strong And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
Lyrics from ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers
A few weeks ago, our church gathered online and shared communion together. In the background, Bill Withers song “Lean on Me” played. It was a beautiful reminder that we are not alone, that we can call out to God and to the body of Christ when life has challenges.
This past year I have been able to lean on my church community as well as many others in our family and community circles as I completed months of cancer treatment. I have drawn strength, comfort, and peace from a deep well of prayer and support provided by others. It is difficult to imagine how we would have made it through the year without it.
I’m through the worst of the treatment now and soon hope to return to my work and everyday life (as different as it will be in today’s COVID climate). My prognosis is good so I want to give other things my energy and focus now. I hope that it will be my turn to be the person others can lean on.
When I get to devote more time to caring for others, these are some of the things I hope I will remember:
Remember people. The challenges of my journey were lightened by knowing that people cared and wanted to help. It amazed me that over a period of months, there was rarely a day when someone didn’t reach out. Experiencing this made me more aware of the people in my life who live with ongoing health concerns and are often forgotten. It’s a reminder to have space in my life and plans to be attentive to the needs of others.
The simple gestures matter. I tend to be a big dreamer, thinking of all the things I could do and unfortunately, that often means I don’t do anything. My experiences have taught me that just taking a few minutes to send a text or email, to make a phone call, or drop a card in the mail, can make a difference. Many of the people who connected with me did so just one or two times but cumulatively it meant I felt well cared for and supported.
When you can, offer specific help. I know people were very sincere when they said “let me know if there’s anything I can do” (and sometimes we did reach out to them) but I did find it easier to respond to specific offers of help. I loved it when someone said, “Can I help you clean out your garden?” or “I just made a pot of soup, can you use some?” It can be uncomfortable accepting practical support but it really did help us cope with managing day to day needs.
Take on the organizer role when required. It was very helpful to have someone organize people to bring regular meals after my surgery and to come and do some cleaning during my hardest chemo days. It simplified the planning and communication and provided us with the support we needed. The organizer could also pass on specific needs and requests like don’t send desserts with every meal!
Offer a diversion. Beyond looking after practical needs, it was wonderful when people took the time to be with me and talk about something else other than cancer! I enjoyed it when people stopped by for a visit or invited me to join them for a walk or go out for tea. I couldn’t be in large groups but going to my bi-weekly small group gatherings was a wonderful escape; I so appreciated the willingness of people in the group to stay away if they had been exposed to germs so I could be there.
Be an empathetic listener. Some people were easy to open up to and share your honest feelings. They asked how you are really doing and then gave you space to share. They didn’t feel a need to tell you all about their own surgery complications or their Aunt’s death from cancer. And if they were scared or worried, they took that to their own support circle rather than burdening you. I hope I can remember what it feels like to really be listened to when I reach out to others.
Be someone’s “person” when needed. One of my friends was at a place in her life where she had time and energy to devote to supporting me. She followed my progress, called regularly, brought my favorite salads, walked with me at whatever pace I could manage, and took me out for lunch. She paid attention to my journey and was a safe person who I could be honest with about my ups and downs. I hope I will be paying attention when someone needs me to be their “person” and I will take the time to walk with them on their journey.
Don’t forget the rest of the family. My diagnosis and treatment had a big impact on the lives of my husband and daughter (and my mother and siblings too). It was nice when people reached out specifically to them to see how they were doing. My husband’s world was also a lot smaller because of me so I appreciated it when someone called him to do something together and took him out for a coffee or a movie.
Thank you, Varsity Community, for allowing me to lean on you. It was humbling to learn how to graciously accept help. May we all be attentive to each other and grow in our ability to support each other as the body of Christ.
If there is a load You have to bear that you can’t carry I’m right up the road, I’ll share your load If you just call me
Lyrics from ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers