11 September, 2012

Independence — a legitimate goal?

Not being 100% competent at managing my life is okay and the idea that I could manage this is just a lie, an illusion.

This is one of the things I struggled with this time coming back from Australia. Every country-to-country transition we make is challenging. The challenges vary, from physical to mental and spiritual. And they vary according to life stage and experience. This time I also struggled with coming back to Japan so fast (it is the fastest turn-around I've ever had from Australia).

This isn't the first time I've struggled on this independence issue, and I dare say it won't be the last.

In Australia I am very independent, and pretty competant. I can manage my own affairs fairly well. I can answer the phone and talk to anyone who calls. I can answer the door and know what any salesperson is saying to me and how to politely knock them back. I can go to the bank, the hairdresser, the doctor, the post office, the dentist and have (almost) no communication troubles whatsoever.

That isn't the case in Japan. It just isn't. 

In Japan I rely far more on my husband and others to stay afloat. I am not particularly competent here. People who first come to Japan (or any country where they don't speak the language) and talk about feeling like they're in kindergarten again. Yep. And now, 12 years later, it just feels like I never graduated.

But if I look at the situation in a balanced way, I do okay. I can go to the shops, use the train, go to my local doctor (for regular problems like asthma), visit the pharmacy, go out for coffee, go to the gym. I can even go to the hairdresser too. And even if I can't have the conversations I'd like to have in those places, I do manage to do them without anyone holding my hand.

I can answer the phone and the door too, and I know how to say, "I don't understand" or "No thank you." but I don't always know what I'm saying "No thank you" for!

There are some things that David and I have just divided up as "my" responsibility and "his". And in Japan he happens to hold more responsibilities for me than he does in Australia. Things like reading official letters, dealing with bureaucracy, ringing the real estate for repairs on the house. Those are his.

And if things go a bit awry or something out-of-the-usual occurs that I need help. 

Like losing my health care card (like an Australian Medicare Card). It's gone missing. I don't know how long it has been missing, but it's gone and David is going to the City office this afternoon to see if he can get a replacement for me. One benefit about Japan is that there is one person designated "in charge" of the household, usually the husband, and he can do many things without the presence of the other members.

Ah, stop the press. It's been found . . . in my husband's wallet. How odd is that?

But back to the original statement: the idea that I should be totally independent. It really isn't true, is it? "No one is an island" is a nice cliche, but it really is true, isn't it. 

For example, while I have good health I can build an illusion of independence. But as soon as I come down with gastro, I'm dependent on others. Losing my independence is as simple as a little germ, or the loss of a job, or an accident.

The only reason I am able to be independent at any time is a gift from God. One not to be proud of if I have or despondent about if I don't. I'm not "more acceptable" if I'm able to manage my own affairs independently. 

What do you think? Where do we get this fierce independence from? The reluctance to rely on others? 

My Occupational Therapy training has a little bit to do with it, I think. It is something I know has had an influence on my parenting. If someone can do something themselves, I'm very reluctant to do it for them (like put socks in the right place).

But I think it is a deeper thing too. Something that makes us feel sorry for people with disabilities. Something that frustrates us when we're ill or otherwise limited. What do you think?


-J said...

I think it comes from the Garden and we've inherited it from Adam - the deire not just to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong and how we'll live, but needing no one else. The interesting thing is that, though we feel sorry for someone with disabilities, we are not 100% able ourselves. We create an illusion that we are by comparing ourselves to others, and usually choosing to focus on those who can do less than we can.

Of course, the gospel is the antithesis for this mindset - When I am weak, then I am strong, etc. But I'm afraid it takes a lifetime to really have that ingrained on our minds and hearts.

The experience of knowing our weakness and frailty and incompetence is key for our sanctification. One of my favorite verses is:

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,
(2 Corinthians 3:5 ESV)

AlyceB said...

You have no idea how much I needed this post tonight. God's been gently prodding me about needing to rely on Him more and that I can't do life by myself. And I think my reluctance to rely on Him is stemming from the fact that here in Japan there isn't a whole lot I can do by myself. I mean, at least my doctor speaks English here, but other than charades and bluffing my way through ordering at Maccas or being served at the shops, I feel so useless and helpless here. I'm trying to take control how I can and in that process, am pushing God away. It's only a matter of time before I crash and burn - it always is.

Thank you for your words. Your posts are a highlight of my Google Reader and I soak them up as someone who knows what it's like here.

KarenKTeachCamb said...

Thanks Wendy. As a single I think I'm even more prone to want/need to be independent than if I were married. Sometimes it's really hard to even let someone help out when I really need it (like when I'm sick). I think that it also has something to do with "control" issues. I like to feel in control of my life and my classroom. When I'm not "in control" I tend to get much more stressed. God's been teaching me a lot about this in the last five years (and especially the last two), and it has been good. As I've learned to recognise that He is in control, not me, I've also learned to let go on some things, and that is a good thing. Yes, I still like to be independent, but let's face it, when I have limited language (and my Khmer is definitely even more limited than your Japanese), there are times when I really do have to depend on others. I thank God for His grace, as He teaches me to be more dependent on Him, while still allowing me my independence.

Wendy said...

Thanks ladies! Sometimes the posts that are hard to write and make me feel nervous about putting them out there are the ones that resonate the most with people. This one is very rough around the edges, but obviously I managed to communicate sufficiently for you to understand the challenge. It runs deep!

Karen, I wondered how a single person might feel, reading this. I know that I'm blessed to lean on my husband. And I know that single people can feel like they'd rather not be as independent as they have to be, that they'd like to rely on someone.

Alyce, I'm so glad these words helped you today. The initial sentence has been sitting in my draft box for about a month before I found the words (and time) to add to them. God's timing is perfect! I've been where you are and it isn't fun. Don't hold out on God, he's like a parent watching a little child struggling with something too big for them. He can't wait for you to accept his help!

Wendy said...

J - thanks for reminding us of that verse. I think one of the amazing blessings of being a missionary is that it is much harder to escape the reality that we aren't sufficient. Being forced into dependence in a way that we might never be in our home country is a great sanctifier!