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Letting Go of Our Independence

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Editor’s Note: Transitional Deacon and Capuchin Franciscan Friar Br. Albert Carver reflects on his first trip to Papa New Guinea where he was struck by the importance of community and by the the strength that often comes from admitting our own limitations. 

As someone who was born and raised in the United States the biggest obstacle to religious life has been an exaggerated sense of my own independence and autonomy – living as if I did not need anyone’s assistance to make my way through life. On my first trip to Papua New Guinea I would discover a people who had no concept of autonomy.

The identity of each person was bound to their relationship with their tribe. There is no “I” for the native Papuan except as part of something bigger – everything “I” am depends on my relationships with the family line and tribe on whom I depend.

I soon learned the degree to which I was living with the myth of self-sufficiency on the long walks to outstation churches through the mountains of the Southern highlands. On these long trips, which sometimes took most of the day, I was often confronted with my own physical limitations.

Some phrases in Pigin, the common language in Papua New Guinea, that came in handy were: “Mi laik kisim win” (I want to catch my breath); “mi laik kisim wara” (I want to drink some water). Sometimes I didn’t ask, but was told: “Brata, sindaun! Malolo!” (Brother, sit down! Rest!)

Nicholas, a native Papuan, was our guide through the bush, and he went out of his way to care for me. He slowed the pace of our group for my sake, had his son carry my backpack, and even held my hand across log bridges when my legs were too weak and shaky to make it across myself.

One day, after Mass at a mountain-top outstation, our group wanted to take an additional walk to see a large waterfall. Half way there I realized I could not go any further.

With the rest of the group moving on, Nicholas guided me back to the outstation church where I rested. Strangely, I was not embarrassed by my limitations or needing help. Looking down into the valley from the church, my heart was filled with gratitude – gratitude for this beautiful country and people, gratitude for being a part of something and not an individual, gratitude even for my limitations and my need for God and God’s people.

U.S. citizens all live, to a certain degree, with the myth of self-sufficiency, but when we are confronted with our own limitations it is truly a gift from God.

Reflection Questions:

  • Do you often prefer to rely on your own abilities before asking God for help? 
  • How much do you value your independence over your relationship with a faith community?

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Br. Albert Carver is a transitional Deacon and Capuchin Franciscan Friar who will be ordained to the priesthood in June 2017. After ordination he plans to return to Papua New Guinea as a missionary and someday teach in the seminary in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Featured image: adaptation of photo by Wikimedia user Douglas Perkins – creative commons

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