I have friends.
I know this will shock many of you, but it's true. Anyway, I've discovered this about my friends - they are dependable. I can rely on them and I trust they know that they can depend on me.
So I was somewhat bemused when I was warned off such crazy behaviour by a professional the other day. It seemed that interacting with a friend when we meet on a Sunday and the odd skype conversation during the week could put us at risk of becoming dependent. (He whispered it so as to minimise the shock, rather like the way people say 'cancer'). Now I suppose that he has in mind a scale of 'dependency' where at one end we are completely self-sufficient and independent (perceived as good) and at the other where one person is completely reliant on the other and cannot live without them (wickedly unhealthy). When he in hushed tones said 'dependent' I guess he meant something close to the latter.
Now, I get that if someone has a deep seated insecurity that meant they couldn't live without feeling needed, if they engineered situations so that others depended on them because that made them feel good, then that is unhealthy, abusive and needs to stop! But other than that, isn't the command to love one another directed against such an island mentality? Aren't many of the problems we face as a society precisely because of the importance placed on independence? Isn't what most people crave a sense of community, don't people bemoan the loss of supportive extended family? In fact, aren't there are lots of situations where even extreme dependency is not only healthy, but essential - the patient undergoing surgery depending on the surgeon, the foreigner in a strange and alien land depending on the interpreter, the person who is injured emotionally or physically depending on their friends...
The baby is not to be abandoned because of the "unhealthy" dependence on its mother, the ageing parent should not be isolated because of an "unhealthy" dependence on children. The husband should not be divorced because of an "unhealthy" dependence on his wife for affection, encouragement and occassional rebuke! This is absurd! Doesn't the truth that we are collectively the body of Christ tell us that we should depend on others? The eye is not a fully functioning body, nor is it intended to be. It is only complete when part of the whole, when it relies on the other parts for what they and only they can do!
Obviously if in providing something for someone we suffocate them, or prevent them reaching maturity in that area of life, that is wrong, but its the opposite tendency that is the bigger danger. The lie that says we are all supposed to be completely independent, that reliance on others is a sign of weakness. The fear we have created that inhibits genuine support, engagement and friendship - leaving the vulnerable (and many others) isolated, lonely and hopeless?
Isn't the the example of the baby precisely the right one? Of course we don't always want to be feeding and clothing the child! But for the period where it cannot do these for itself, dependence is life giving! As it grows, we alter our approach from one of purre provision to one of training and encouragement in order to develop the skills and confidence that lead to a healthy independence in those areas. We still retain the bonds of love, still provide the occasional recipe, the family meals, but they are appropriately capable of doing it themselves. Eventually the time comes for them to leave home - it isn't leaving the relationship, isn't leaving the love. It is leaving the shelter of proper dependence and moving to a place of healthy interdependnece.
So perhaps the key is for us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in agreeing what areas we should be mature and independent in and those areas where we are supposed to be relaxed in our interdependence. Under God's guidance, it is to provide the unfettered support that's needed through the period of healing or transformation. Then to find healthy ways to develop maturity in those areas until they are ready to 'leave home'.
We are not called to be God in our or other people's lives.
But we are called to love one another.