"I Can't Do It All Myself"
I can't do it all myself. Five words that don't
seem too emotionally charged. Nothing particularly
hostile about them; nothing especially remarkable
either, just sitting there by themselves, all innocent
and naïve. In fact, if you were to overhear someone
saying those five words, it would depend entirely
upon the tone of their voice, the inflection, the
expression on their face, to whom they were speaking,
and the situation about which they were speaking
for you to know anything about their meaning.
Let's say, for example, that your six-year old
son runs off with his new toy, insisting that he
can assemble it on his own. An hour later, sheepish
grin on his adorable little face, he walks up to
you and says, "Daddy, I can't do it all myself."
Well, that's really awfully cute, isn't it? And
there's even a lesson or two to be learned from
the experience. Certainly, the words themselves
convey an admission, and along with it a petition
for help. They'll probably lead to some quality
time between father and son.
A person of faith says those five words often.
If you came upon someone in prayer, you might very
well catch him or her saying, "I can't do it all
myself." Of course, if you stuck around,
you'd undoubtedly also hear them ask for God's help,
or God's wisdom, and you'd realize what they meant.
An admission, perhaps, as well as a petition to
God. Or, for someone mature in his faith, a simple
statement of fact, as in; "I know I can't
do it all myself."
A single mother, trying to work and raise her kids
might be heard saying those words upon occasion.
No one would blame her; she's got her hands full.
Or a guy trying to juggle two jobs, plus coach his
kid's soccer team and build a deck onto his house;
he might just get caught saying something like "What
was I thinking? I can't do it all myself."
Pretty benign phrase, really. Can sound whiney
or self-pitying at times, insightful, or even pious
at others, but it's not going to upset anyone. It's
not like one of those trick questions; you know
the ones, like "Honey, does this dress make me look
fat?" that every man has learned (through painful
experience) to avoid at all costs.
EXCEPT! Have you ever been part of a relationship,
either with your spouse, or business partner, or
room-mate, or coworker, in which you were absolutely
positive that you were contributing at least
50% of the effort? And, whether that effort was
the housework, or the family business, or running
a huge corporation, or raising the children, did
the other person in that relationship ever say to
you, "I can't do it ALL myself?" Because only if
you have had that experience, only if you knew that
you and that "other person" were SO equally invested,
SO equally devoted, SO equal in effort, only then
can you know what a monstrous impact those words
It comes at you like a poisonous dart, with venom
and with speed. It is both an explanation, generally
for one's foul mood, and an accusation. More than
likely, the dart thrower will insist that the latter
is not so; it wasn't meant as an accusation. But
how else then, can it be perceived? When someone
says, referring to a project, or a business, or
a household, that "I (just) can't do it ALL myself,"
does that not imply that somehow he or she believes
that that is what they are, in fact, doing? And
please note that I inserted the "just" into the
sentence, because you can always hear the "just."
It's a qualifier; it is meant to explain that "It's
just that I wouldn't be feeling so stressed (depressed,
anxious, exhausted, uptight, angry, disappointed-it
doesn't really matter; some such word will definitely
belong there) if only I didn't have to do it all
myself. There's no other way to take such a statement,
Even when you know deep inside that this person
whom you love, or respect, or have chosen as a partner
could not possibly believe that you don't do just as
much as he or she does, even when you could, although
you never would, produce a list that proved beyond
any doubt that you have done the same if not more
than he or she does, the only conceivable reaction
to such a statement is to get defensive. The dart,
you see, has already begun to spread its deadly
poison, and you begin almost immediately to feel
paranoid. Is he accusing me? Doesn't she notice
everything that I do? Why doesn't he think my contribution
is worth every bit as much as his? Does she actually
think I've been slacking off? Does he really resent
me???? And of course, the moment you fall prey to
those thoughts, you have to defend yourself. Or
walk out of the room and slam a door. Or throw something.
At least, that's what I always did. In fact,
it's exactly what I did the other day when I heard
my husband say those very words. But then I thought
about it. I stayed in the room whose door I'd just
slammed, sat on the edge of the tub, (OK, so it
was the bathroom) and thought. And prayed. (yes,
my beautiful daughter, you were right.) At first,
all I was asking for was patience. I wanted the
anger removed from my heart, and patience, wisdom
and understanding to take its place. And that happened
almost immediately, because when you honestly want
to banish anger, it's amazing how quickly it departs.
It's such a fleeting thing, really (unless you've
been holding it within you for other reasons) and
just as it flares up in an instant, so does it die
So, I was no longer angry, but I wanted more. And
I thought about myself. Hadn't I ever, in the midst,
say, of cooking dinner, while running a load of
wash, after working all day AND paying the bills;
hadn't I ever been standing alone in the
kitchen feeling like I couldn't do it all myself?
And then, just as quickly, hadn't I realized that
I didn't do it all, that my husband did just
as much, and that we really were a perfect team?
It's just that sometimes, every once in awhile,
when I was feeling unusually put upon, or unusually
overwhelmed, I acquired this unattractive little
"martyr" trait. But I never really meant
it; it was just a feeling.
And when my husband had said those words out loud,
had he really hurled them at ME, or had they been
uttered more like a lament, an expression of his
feelings. To be fair, they had sounded like
a cry for help, a prayer, a heaving sigh of desperation.
And if I chose (because everything is a choice)
to interpret them as an accusation, then what was
wrong with me? Why would I, confident in my contributions,
allow someone's momentary feeling make me paranoid?
Didn't that say way more about my vulnerabilities
and way less about the words themselves?
And I thought, too, about the ways I could
have responded. I could have heard the feeling instead
of the words, and put my arms around my husband.
I could have asked him what particular ALL it was
that was getting him down, and if there was any
way that I could help. I could have told him how
sorry I was that he was feeling overwhelmed.
None of us, however, is perfect. None of us can
always respond in the best possible way,
or speak with the best possible intentions, or see
into another's heart faster than we attempt to protect
our own…….not always. But what I slowly discovered
as I sat on the bath tub's edge is simply this;
there is something we can always do; we can
make the choice to try.
me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com