Why We Need Support Systems

It's a dreary day, and I'm sitting in my bedroom wearing leggings, a gray tee shirt, and an oversized nubby olive green cardigan that might be cute or might make me look homeless, I'm not sure which. I feel as inspired as an empty paper bag. I never intended to become a lackluster once-a-month blogger after a decade of consistent writing, but in addition to feeling the general uncertainties of quarantine these past few months, I've also faced several painful personal and family struggles.

Some are too close to home to share. Others, like one of my daughters being diagnosed in January with a complicated ongoing health problem, are a little easier to disclose.

Regardless of specifics, I haven't written much lately because I'm sad and exhausted. I submitted semester grades earlier this week, which finally placed a period at the end of this strange "emergency remote" semester of teaching. There was no sense of accomplishment or relief, though. I simply felt numb, especially since I have a little over a week to prepare two new online summer classes and start again.

Despite these legitimate challenges, I've still felt like I should be doing more or better. I should stop my children from watching eight hours of television on a school day, for example, and I should put my foot down more firmly when somebody eats potato chips for breakfast. I should do more art projects with the girls in between my Zoom classes and online grading. I should be more intentional in contributing to their educational, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

But who am I kidding? This morning I stayed in bed until nearly 10 A.M. after being awake until nearly 4 at night. I drank a large McDonalds sweet tea for breakfast, and well, you already know how motivated I am to dress well. I'm not at my best (who is, really?), and I don't feel capable of consistently helping others be their best now, either.

And that confession reminds me of a certain tree. Let me explain.

On campus (which, you know, is a place I used to regularly visit to teach groups of college-aged people in real classrooms) there's a gorgeous sprawling tree. Beyond the massive size, its most defining characteristics are the wooden props that support its extended limbs.


I'm no arborist, but I don't think a tree reaches this magnificent status unless it has external props. I don't think a tree can extend its reach quite this far without strategic support.


These wooden props are there for a reason: they prevent the tree from sagging and snapping under the heavy burden of aged limbs. In our own lives, different forms of support are there for a reason, too: we're not strong enough to carry some weights on our own. Certain burdens are too heavy for us to bear alone.


I'm not sure what you're personally enduring right now. Maybe you or a loved one has been physically ill. Maybe you've lost reliable income. Maybe you're scared, bored, careworn, unable to muster cheer, or have no desire to do science projects with your kids. Maybe you're emotionally unhinged, binge eating, and barely sleeping. Maybe you stare out your window while you brush your teeth each morning, wondering if you'll ever have a normal day again. Maybe quarantine has triggered a long-standing battle with mental illness, or maybe you've experienced serious depression or anxiety for the first time.

You need support to help you bear those burdens.

Maybe it's the opposite. Perhaps you love the extra time at home, and you now bake your own bread and knit your own socks. Maybe your closets are cleaner. Maybe your family is thriving with regular game nights, devotions, foreign-language acquisition, and increased cardiovascular fitness. Maybe you joyfully welcomed a pandemic puppy into your home. (That's a thing, I think.)

Your energy can help you bear other's burdens.

Maybe you straddle both of these worlds: making the best of things one moment and feeling like you're falling apart the next. I text my friends curated compilations of funny memes, then curl up on the couch, utterly despondent. I laugh, then abruptly cry, at every episode of John Krasinski's Some Good News. Most days after waking, I take 20 minutes (sometimes 30) before I muster the desire to climb out out of bed. 

Yet, in my lowest moments, friends come beside me, like sturdy wooden props under tree branches, and hold me up when I want to melt into the floor and stay there indefinitely like a slug. I think of how family has prayed for me, propping up my weary limbs.

Some days, we are the props for others. Other days, we need to be propped.

Anne Lamott once wrote, "The more I think about it, the only reason various societies work is because we’re not all depressed at the same time.” This seems true. We're strong for others when needed, and others are strong for us when needed. We're all part of support systems. Sometimes we support, and other times we're supported. I imagine that's by design.

I think of Moses watching a great battle with his arms outstretched, and how Aaron and Hur, one on each side, came to prop his arms aloft when he grew fatigued. That's how the battle was won. Two people served as strategic props. They carried the weight that Moses couldn't carry himself. They lifted his arms when he no longer could lift them on his own.

If you need support right now, there's no shame. I'm right there with you. Find that support. Lean into it. Let others bear some of that weight until you can get your footing again. And if you're offering support to others right now, well, you're amazing. You're like those essential wooden props. Your very presence is keeping people from sagging and splitting apart. And if you spend these infinitely long quarantine days toggling back and forth between being a "prop" and needing to be "propped," I think you're extremely normal.

Trees aren't the only things that need support systems. We all need support.

_____________________________________

Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you.
Psalm 55:22

No comments

Back to Top