Umubano (A Good Relationship)

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Self-care. Self-sacrifice. Human beings fail miserably at each of these false opposites. I know because I am a human being.

I’m a Christian. A social justice activist. And a survivor of mental illness. Self-care is not an alien concept to me. I know that to love my neighbor I must also love myself, and that the antidote to pride is not self-deprecation. I know that fighting systems of exclusion, oppression and marginalization can be emotionally taxing and that I need to take time to reflect. I know that it is hard to underestimate the value of fighting for self-love and self-acceptance.

Self-care. Self-sacrifice. We are selfish creatures with paradoxically selfless impulses. Our desire to bear one another’s burdens-our “Turi Kumwe” (“we are together”) spirit- is one of humanity’s most identifiable redeeming qualities. But in this life the most we will ever achieve on our own is imperfect love. Sometimes this means we are not strong enough to bear one another’s burdens. Most of the time it means that we can shoulder external burdens, but not without doing significant damage to our internal selves.

Mzungus in Rwanda and in East Africa share some common experiences. One of these common experiences is the greeting, “Mzungu, mfata amafaranga” (Mzungu, give me money). Particularly if you’re a Mzungu fond of lonely morning runs in remote rural areas. Particularly if you are not only Mzungu but aggressively Mzungu, with blonde hair and blue eyes and an American accent. Is it right to put in headphones and feign ignorance, hiding behind language barriers and immunizing yourself to empathy? Is it sustainable to extend your compassion repeatedly, morning after morning, day after day, drowning in the midst of a global inequity in which you find yourself on the winning side?

Recently a friend living in West Africa told me that people in her community “like to shit on each other all of the time.” Rwandans don’t. Ever. Embedded in contemporary Rwandan culture is a reverence, an awe for our common humanity borne of tragedy, loss, and pain- and recovery from the same. It is beautiful. The Rwandan recognition of our interdependence-and our simultaneous fallibility-is perhaps the crowning achievement, from my outsider’s perspective, of Rwandan culture.

Recently I’ve been developing a more mature perspective both on interdependence and its limitations. We need each other. But inevitably, we will disappoint each other. We are all we have, but we are not enough. I’ve been struggling to appear strong for a colleague amidst trials that I cannot begin to fathom, all the while failing to adequately care for myself. I’ve positioned myself as a safe space, a comforting companion in a close personal relationship, all the while muting my own pain as disingenuous comparison dictates that my pain does not matter. I’ve seen the anxiety that my internal anxiety causes when I externally burden someone very close to me. Self-sacrifice. Self-care. As human beings, we fail miserably at each of these false opposites. Umubano.

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)


Open your heart as a

Fair Exchange

Pour your sorrows your

Joys into mine

Miraculous interdependence

Make your yoke easy

Lighten my burden[1]

As we carry one another’s crosses

In silence

Together toward Calvary’s hill


Can you drink the cup I drink?

Can you lay your burden down?

Greater love

Has no one

Than this

That He lay down his life for His friends[2]


Love thy neighbor

Love thy neighbor

Love thy neighbor as thyself


Thin line betwixt


And compassion immunity

Beautiful interdependence

Caught in each other’s yokes

Imperfect vessels for a

Perfect love

We were but we weren’t

Made for this…


Wounds bind us together

In His we find healing[3]

In ours only pain


Heaven’s perfect paradigm

Charity’s catch-22

Selfish creatures crafted

To be selfless

Heaven we weren’t

Made for this


Compassionate costume

Cloaked in love

Take my hand and

Open your heart

Fairest of exchanges

Sacred mediator

He laid His life down

Only to take it up again[4]

We can only keep ours

Or cast it to dust


A perfect intermediary

Perfect receptacle

To receive our imperfect love

Take my pain-riddled compassion

And turn it to beauty

Bear all of our burdens and

Let us walk

As children of light.[5]

[1] Matthew 11:30: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

[2] John 15:13 NIV: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

[3] Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

[4] John 10:18: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

[5] 1 Thessalonians 5:5: “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or the darkness.”


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