Lean on Me

· Autonomy,Suffering,Compassion,COVID-19

Autonomy is the ability of a person to make choices that shape her life. In our society, we claim to limit the freedom of personal autonomy so that another’s autonomy is not infringed upon. Clashes of autonomy seem to occur more and more these days. When it comes to social value, autonomy and autonomous people are at the top.

We have not been created this way. We have limitations that are natural to us. This is a hard truth for those of us who have been born into a situation where we can easily exercise our autonomy. But it is truth. And it has consequences.

To some degree, these consequences were realized during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s said that Bill Withers’s Lean on Me became an unofficial anthem (at least in the early days).

Sometimes in our lives

We all have pain

We all have sorrow

Withers knew that we all have pain. We are all subject to vulnerability. Your life and my life are contingent on many things that we cannot overcome. And at different times in our lives, we become burdens to others.

This is why followers of Jesus are called to resemble a body of different parts that rely on each other. Withers sings about this too.

Lean on me

When you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I'll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on . . .

You just call on me brother when you need a hand

We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem that you’ll understand

We all need somebody to lean on

We might interpret these words as give-and-take, or a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of idea. I don’t think that’s accurate. Withers points to a truth about human relationships in creation. In the beginning, one human being couldnt live alone. There needed to be two. The truth remains: We all need somebody.

So we need to get over the sense of autonomy that stands in the way of asking for help. We aren’t as independent as we think we are. We’re not capable of carrying our own burden, even though admitting this feels like a threat to our dignity.

Please swallow your pride

If I have things you need to borrow

For no one can fill

Those of your needs that you won’t let show

We’re still like Adam and Eve expelled from the garden: covering our weaknesses so others can’t see them. But this is a distortion of the relationships God has created us to have.

We need to live in community. Not just any community. Not a community that gathers simply because members share a common interest (although such a community can become more than this). We need to be a community that lives close to each other – close enough to know each other. We need to be a compassionate community made up of people who feel comfortable caring for those who are suffering now. And we need to be a community of people who suffer well, who are comfortable telling others, “I need you!”

If there is a load you have to bear

That you can’t carry

I’m right up the road

I’ll share your load

If you just call me

Call me

If you need a friend