4 necessities for being human
There’s a shelf in our home office lined with books and a file on my computer full of podcasts, articles, and notes, all of them about how to grow, overcome, and change. Maybe you’ve got all that going on too. Whether you call it spiritual growth, self-help, personal development, or just learning, when we get enough altitude on it, we’re all after the same thing: trying to become more human and alive in this world.
As I’ve reflected on all those books and podcasts, struggled along in my own pursuit of becoming more human and alive in this world, and worked with others trying to do the same, I’ve noticed that the same ideas and practices kept popping up again and again, all of them, it turns out, something essential in our pursuit of becoming more human.
So, once again, I break my vow of never being the “Here Are 4 Things You Need!” kind of writer, and offer you 4 necessities for being human:
A teacher of mine once said that becoming human is less about flipping switches and more about planting seeds.
It didn’t make sense to me right away because I was always taught that becoming human is like a switch. Whatever it is I was rumbling with or up against I could just flick a switch and boom! - the light go on and Id have moved forward and gotten to wherever I needed to go.
Maybe you know what Im talking about.
If we're rumbling with forgiveness,
if we're struggling with a wound,
if we're wanting our prayers and laments answered,
we look for something quick and easy to get immediate results.
But for those who have tried that, we all know what happens when we flick that switch, right?
Not much of anything.
We’ve said ‘I forgive you’ but still want throw that person in front of a bus.
We’ve dressed the wound but it refuses to heal.
We’ve prayed the prayer but were greeted with absence and silence.
We’ve all flicked the switch and … nothing. The lights didn’t go on.
It’s here we need to remember that teacher’s wisdom: becoming human is less like switches and more like seeds.
The growth, becoming, change, and movement we’re looking for takes less flicking switches, and more more planting and growing seeds. Becoming the kinds of people we want to be is a careful, intentional, and long process. There’s no immediacy when it comes to becoming more human. It’s going take awhile so be patient, be present, and enjoy the process.
Since moving to Calgary from Toronto about 5 years ago, every so often I'll enter into a deep funk that completely deflates me, throws me off my groove, and leaves me teary-eyed (Im still learning how to let it out) on the couch. The first couple times it happened I had no idea what was going on but was convinced I could figure it out myself. I mean, I'm an adult, right? This is what I do for a living! Surely I can pull myself out of these funks, get my groove back, and stop this from happening again. But sure enough, despite all the books I read, the powering through I'd do, and the telling myself the things I would tell others, the funk would show up again, always heavier and worse than before.
During one of my funks my girlfriend convinced me to go see someone. With the help of the counsellor I realized I was rumbling with some shit I didn’t even know existed within me. Turns out, I was grieving. I was mourning the loss of the friends, community, and life I had left behind in Toronto. Without the help of this counsellor, not only would I have never been able to see and understand this grief, but I wouldn't have been able to learn how to move and work through it. While those funks still come, I’m now ready for them.
Here’s the thing I was forced to learn through this: being human takes vulnerability. It takes a lot of saying: 'I can’t do this on my own. Im not sure how do manage this. I need some help.’
And here’s the thing to know about that cause I know asking for help is a scary thing in and of itself. Asking for help isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of. Vulnerability is as badass as it gets and sometimes, usually all the time, it's the only way to move forward.
Are you struggling to move through something? Ask for help.
Are you rumbling with grief and loss? Ask for help.
Are you fighting against false narratives and labels? Ask for help.
Do you keep falling into the same destructive behaviours again and again? Ask for help.
We can’t be human on our own. We need other people to help those seeds grow, do some watering and weeding, show us that these things we struggle with are not bigger than us, and that we can, if we surrender to the help of others, experience the growth, peace, and wholeness we’re looking for.
Usually when we talk about courage we end up talking about super heroes - those people who do extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances and who swoop in from nowhere to save the day. And sure, that’s true. But when we talk about courage we’re also talking about something else: we’re talking about doing what needs to be done, even when, especially when, failing and falling are inevitable.
Now, there are all kinds of people we could point to who embodied this kind of courage, but because my brain is wired this way, I generally think of the disciple Peter. I know religious stuff isn’t for everyone, but hear me out. Peter was one of the students of Jesus we hear about in the Bible and if we know anything about Peter, it’s that he believed Jesus opened up the kind of life he was looking for, and that he was always, always, always failing and falling. He was always losing the plot, always saying the wrong thing, always dropping the ball, and yet, despite all of that, despite every one of his fails and falls, he was always picking himself up, dusting himself off, and trying again to seek after that life he believed was there.
Now whatever you think about the Bible, there’s some wisdom there for us:
It takes a lot of courage to be human.
Whether that’s tackling some deep wounds and false narratives within you, putting your heart out there in the things you create, speaking up for the voiceless and against corrupt systems, working at your relationships, or something else all together, it's going to take a lot of courage.
It takes courage because the truth is we will inevitably fall and fail and will need to pick ourselves in order to keep going.
A couple years ago my counsellor was helping me work through this grudge I’ve been carrying towards this guy who made my life hell in junior high. Yah, junior high. That’s twenty years of carrying a grudge. It was a pretty deep wound. I was telling the counsellor how if this guy came to the church where I work asking for help I honestly wouldn’t help him. So we talked about that for awhile and he sent me away with some homework to do on forgiveness. At our next session he asked if I thought I would help the guy out if he ever came to my church. After a long pause of wondering if I should be honest or not because the truth was I hadn’t forgiven him yet, I said ‘I dont know anymore.’ And my counsellor said: “Well, that's worth celebrating.”
If becoming human is about all those things like planting seeds, being vulnerable, and having the courage to embrace falling, it’s really about movement. It’s about the step by step process of becoming more and more the kind of people we want to be. And because it’s about movement, a necessary practice to embrace is celebration.
We need to acknowledge, affirm, and celebrate these movements because let's be honest - this is tough work we're doing. It takes sweat, struggle, and time. Every step, even if it's the smallest of steps forward, is worth celebrating. It's worth celebrating because it's there, in the celebrating, you can find the rest and momentum you need to keep on moving forward.