It’s been a while since I wrote here. In all honesty, this transition has been hard work. It’s the first time I’ve been a full time solo parent (with Rasmus unemployed the past year, we shared care of Kaya). The pregnancy is making me extra tired, so that I tend to head to bed by 9pm every evening, not leaving a lot of time for writing. And then there’s the whole newness of this phase, which moment by moment can be either exciting or exhausting.
I’ve been working hard at getting out and about every day (Kaya kinda demands it, she hates being stuck at home all day!). We’ve found so many local playgrounds, have tried out the coffee at various local independent places, discovered the beautiful, wild and rambling Nunhead cemetery last week. And I’m slowly slowly meeting people.
But this transition period is a lonely one too and there have been times in the past weeks where I’ve put out SOS calls to friends and family for some from-afar encouragement and love. I’m an extrovert – being with other people is where my energy comes from. But I need the meaningful heart-connections, not the shallow small talk, and so much of settling in to a new place starts with that small talk.
Does that sound whiney? I don’t mean it to. The thing is, I knew this was coming. I’ve moved enough to know that there is always this period of weeks and months, after you’ve unpacked all the boxes and hung most of the paintings but there isn’t really anyone to invite over, when you have a favourite coffee place but no one to meet there. It’s normal and so widely experienced by anyone who has moved. But that doesn’t make it any less hard when you’re back there, remembering just how slow the days seem to pass in this season, when the distance between you and the other people walking down the street seems immense.
In all of that, there are moments of incredible connection and friendship which remind me how good community feels when you’ve worked to put down roots. A friend from University who I haven’t seen since graduation lives an easy walk away, and she came round with brownies and asked me, so what do you need?
I think I was a little lost for words at the time but that question has since become a kind of mantra for me. What do you need? I ask it to myself, and I hear it asked by that still small voice in the depths of me. What do you need?
For a woman who enjoys feeling indispensable, it’s not an easy question to lean in to. I want to be the one asking it of other people, ready and able to meet their needs. To have it asked of me, and to answer it honestly, means admitting that I can’t do this alone, that there are lacks in my life that need meeting. It forces me to make space for that lack, for the frustrations and the loneliness. And that feels hugely vulnerable.
What do you need? When I find the courage to answer that question honestly, I stop pretending that everything is just fine. I admit that this right here is hard and that I’m not in a great place each moment. And then sometimes I see what I need to do to meet that need. Sometimes that’s something I can do, small things in my day that put my own needs first for a change. Sometimes it’s something I need from someone else, and then I am learning how to ask for help, how to express those needs and desires.
There’s something in me – maybe it’s a woman thing, maybe it’s a church thing, maybe it’s just a me thing – that believes the best way to live is to put my own needs last. I have a memory from Sunday School, sitting in the church’s vestry (so it must have been summer) and being taught by a sweet older lady, that the way we find joy in our lives is to remember it as an acronym – Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.
I remember that and it makes me a little sad. I understand the desire behind it. We hope to raise children (I know I do) who are able to live compassionately, with great love, deeply connected with the divine. We see so much selfish behaviour in our societies, so much greed and disconnection, and it hurts and scares us. So let’s teach our children to put God and others first.
But making it so linear like this, means I come last. My own needs are suddenly unimportant. My own desires have no right to be heard. And the unintended outcome (I still stay in touch with that lady from my childhood church and her heart is beautiful – this is not about her), is that I can one day find myself in a place of exhaustion, of disillusionment, of feeling disconnected from my own soul.
When all the rest, all of the things I have worked so hard at for God and for others, when it all gets stripped away, and I find myself in a new place, new people, no projects or responsibilities, no saving the world to do right now – in that moment, I need to know who I am, and what I truly need.
The truth is, I am coming to see, that there is no 1,2,3. It’s all wrapped up in one messy confusing wonderful relationship. I can’t separate myself from others, I am because we are (that beautiful South African philosophy of ubuntu). But I also can’t separate myself from the divine. Where can I go from your presence? one psalmist asks of God. My very being, my desires and needs and loves, is all tied up with the source of all creation.
And so I find myself hearing this question more often, asked across the coffee table by an old friend, whispered into my heart by the Spirit, jotted into a journal in my own handwriting: What do you need?
I don’t really know the answer. But each time I lean into the question, when I don’t shy away from the discomfort and vulnerability of it, I discover a little bit more, about myself, about other people, about God. And so maybe this question is the one that will walk me through this wilderness season and out into a new season, a spacious place.