Alerting your allies: Who can I count on to help?

This is the third handrail in a series on surviving the holidays.

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Allies are people who provide support for your survival, not necessarily theirs.

Humans are built for community, for relationship. At the very beginning of creation, God was, and was relationship.

And then Adam. But it wasn’t good for there to be one human. There needed to be two.

We’ve understood that to be, we’ve created expectations for that to be about couples. But all through the stories of people, it’s about others. Tribes, families, associates, churches.

Who can you count on to give you courage, to give you support, to rescue you? Who leans into you for courage, for support, for rescue?

As humans we need, at a deep level, other humans to interact with.

It’s been hard for the last few months. What could have been defined as physical distancing got defined as social distancing, and that word choice has caused all kinds of grief. We can support each other socially even when we are physically distant. We do it all the time.

But when we are told that we are socially distant, that hurts.

All that to say that we cannot be courageous alone forever. We cannot change expectations alone forever. It is not good to be alone. Particularly when the loss we are facing this season includes someone who has now left us alone. Our parent, child, spouse, partner in crime, soul mate, completer of our sentences.

We already acknowledged that this is hard. And we’ve already started to adjust our expectations.

We can alert our allies.

We can tell the people who can provide support for our survival that we need help.

Sometimes this looks like a letter I read recently from a friend whose wife died two years ago.

As part of his griefcare process, he wrote a grief letter to his friends. “Here’s what I feel like now, here’s what’s going on inside my head. Here’s how you can help”

That process of writing a letter actually alerts two kinds of allies.

It tells your friends what is going on in you and what you need.

But it also tells YOU what’s going on in you and what you need.

For many of us, that process of writing things down, words, sentences, or whole books, helps us discover what is going on inside us. (It’s part of why I created Giving the Year Meaning as a journal with prompts that invite reflection.)

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But what if you lost all your allies? What if your former spouse got to keep them? What if that is who died?

That’s hard. 100 percent. It’s the feeling I get from Paul as I read a letter near the end of his life written to a friend who is far away.

He talks about the ways that one family in particular has been helpful. He talks about how others have not helped, how others have ignored him, have walked away from him, have intentionally tried to undermine him. He identified the one close colleague who is still with him. He recounts what he’s tried to do with his life, and his fear for what still is vulnerable. He acknowledges that there are some other people around that know him, implying, however, that he is still lonely. He acknowledges that God has helped him.

And he asks his friend to come.

I have a feeling that the process of letting Timothy know how things were was important for Paul. It would take time for the letter to find Timothy, for Timothy to make travel plans, find Mark, and make the trip. But for Paul, being able to tell a friend about the challenges mattered. It didn’t change the challenges, but it changed the sense of being alone.

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