“Your life is not your own.” Lately I’ve begun to wonder if my life belongs to me or if I belong to everyone around me. I could easily spend all day every day talking with, giving to, showing up for, the people around me. I’m not always quite sure how it happens, but somehow I find ways to support almost everyone who asks for it, often to my own detriment. It has been a source of some tension between me and others, many of whom were legitimately frustrated that I didn’t seem to have enough time for them. They didn’t feel as though they were important to me. And my simply saying that they were was not sufficient, when my actions seemed to indicate anything but that. I gave myself out to everyone and anyone to the point where I wasn’t even attending to my own needs and interests. This was not a healthy or sustainable way to live.
I once tried to explain it to a close friend who was complaining to me that I wasn’t making time for them. At the time I was feeling so much pressure and was in demand from everyone around. I was so frustrated that I began to cry. “I feel like I spend so much time attending to everyone around me: my job, my children, my partner, everyone–that I am not even in my own family picture.” I couldn’t articulate the feeling well then, this sense that I was giving out so much of my energy and attention to other people that I had little left for myself. It wasn’t easy to feel like everyone needed something from me, such that I had little to give to anyone.
Jesus belonged to everyone, they were part of him and he was definitely part of them. He opened himself up to be there for literally anyone and everyone who asked for or needed his help, at any given time, all the time. He was often too busy for even the closest people in his life. His mother and brothers once came to see him. They waited outside the place he was staying and asked to speak with him. He allegedly said, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He looked out over the crowd he was speaking to at the time and said, “You all are my brothers and sisters. Anyone who does the will of my heavenly father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” I can almost imagine how well that went over with Mary. You don’t even want to know what I would have said to my son if he’d done that to me.
What must it have been like for Jesus’s family, those who knew him from back in the day to watch him gain attention and notoriety, to have him be away from home for increasingly longer periods of time? At what point did they realize that he no longer “belonged” to them, that he instead belonged to everyone?
As I child I used to be angry at my father, who as a local physician and civil rights activist spent more time away from home than at home. I was resentful of the fact that he took care of other people’s children but rarely came home and spent time with his own. And when he wasn’t working and caring for patients, he was attending meetings and making speeches and organizing boycotts in support of people’s freedom and equality and rights. Over the years it felt like everyone else was more important than my siblings and I were. I looked at my father’s outward actions and made assumptions about his inner motivations and about how important I was to him. Even as an adult I struggled to comprehend this. Only recently have I come to understand that my father didn’t belong to me, he belonged to everyone. And while I believe that as he grew older and less in demand he perhaps recognized what he’d given up, what he’d missed out on for having made himself “a man of the people,” I’m not sure he would have made different choices.
I am not Jesus, and I am not my father. But these days I often find myself so busy with things external to my personal life that I can be neglectful of of the people who are important to me. It is an unintended consequence of having chosen a people profession, one in which you are called upon to assist, guide, or serve others. Educators, health professionals, ministers and spiritual leaders, hospitality workers, social workers, and so many others who work in service to others by the nature of their work belong to everyone. And yet, at the end of the day, who do they come home to? Who cares for them when they are sick? Who listens to them when they are frightened or lonely? When the crowds disperse, and the applause fades, and the cameras turn off, to whom do they turn?
There’s so much we don’t know about Jesus. I wonder who was there for him. The stories say that at the very end of his life, very few of his friends stood by him. Only his mother and a very small handful of people are recorded as having been close to him as he was dying. Only a few were there to take him down from the cross of his suffering, clean him up, and bury him. These were some of the same people he left standing outside when they’d come to see him.
These forty days have continued to offer opportunities for self-discovery, for asking challenging and important questions of ourselves. As I speed through my incredibly hectic work life, one in which I’ve chosen to work in service to and on behalf of people, I must remain vigilant to balance the needs of the strangers on whose behalf I labor against the needs of my family and friends who likewise need my support, love, and attention. It is at times a difficult but important balance to strike. And in the midst of all that balancing, I have to remember to carve out a small niche of time and space for myself and my own needs. We may belong to everyone, but in the end we must also belong to ourselves.