by Shauna Niequist
Lately, I’ve been working hard on my commitment to the home team. Everybody has a home team: it’s the people you call when you get a flat tire or when something terrible happens. It’s the people who, near or far, know everything that’s wrong with you and love you anyway. The home team people are the ones you can text with five minutes’ notice, saying, “I’m on my way, and I’m bringing tacos.”
There are two reasons you need to know who your home team is. First, you need to know who they are because they need you. These are the people you visit in the hospital no matter what. These are the people whose weddings you attend, no matter how far the destination is or what terrible thing they’ve chosen for you to wear. These are the ones who tell you their secrets, who get themselves a glass of water without asking when they’re at your house. These are the people who cry when you cry. These are your people, your middle-of-the-night, no-matter-what people.
The second reason you need to know who your home team is, is because then you know who your home team is not. Everyone else is everyone else. You may be tempted to have about a hundred close friends and relatives on your home team. I’m not going to tell you exactly how many you can have, but there are a few ways of getting to that number. First, I’ll tell you right now that my home team is bigger than average. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying that it takes a village for me to feel really close and connected. My husband, on the other hand, could live perfectly well with about three other people on the whole planet.
And it doesn’t last forever, that team. It shifts sometimes, when you move, or as life changes every few years. That’s not wrong. But at any given season, you’ve got to know, essentially, who you’re responsible for when it all falls apart.
It’s so easy to give everything we have to the first people who ask, or the people who ask the most often, or the people who are always in crisis. But stop yourself: are they a part of your home team?
I’m easily seduced by the idea that I can solve someone’s problem. I like solving problems, saving the day, swooping in with the right dress or the right words or the right solution. Because of this, I’ve been known to offer use of my wedding dress to people I meet on airplanes, to throw parties in honor of people I barely know and to accept full emotional and psychological responsibility for people I only know from Facebook. These are not my best choices, but I’m working on it.
I’m proud to say that at this point, I don’t make coffee dates with people just because I can’t figure out how to say no. This took about ten years and a fair amount of therapy, and I relapse every so often, but for the most part, I try to think about the things only I can do, and only do those. For example, there are a whole lot of people in the world who can have coffee with the perfectly nice lady I met at preschool. She has a home team of her own, and I want to give the best of what I have to mine, because I’m one of the only people who can bring the exact right deli sandwich (#16, no tomatoes) over to Melody’s house when she calls to tell me she’s having another miscarriage.
There is a totally finite amount of time and energy that each of us have to give to the people in our lives. You can give yours to your home team. Or you can spend it haphazardly on an odd collection of people who need something from you, largely because you don’t want to say no and risk what might happen if you do that. This is a terrible reason to be friends with someone, because it’s a ticking time bomb of resentment and codependence.
This is the thing: the home team concept for me is not all about getting myself out of the doghouse with a whole bunch of people who need something from me. It’s about making sure that the people who deserve my energy and love and attention get it before it’s sucked up by people who have their own home teams.
I am one of those people who, as an adult, is actually friends with my parents. Charter members of my home team. They’re still completely parents, prone to telling me I look tired and asking how my car’s running. But they’re also interesting, smart people who make me laugh and make me think. I love to have dinner with them and go on vacation with them and spend Saturday mornings in their garage while Henry helps my dad wash the cars.
My brother, certainly, is part of the home team. During a rough few days earlier this year, he came over just about every other day to sit on my couch and eat chicken fingers with Henry, because that’s what the home team does. It shows up when needed. The house church, even across the miles, is our home team.
One way you can tell if someone’s on your home team is if you’ll let them walk right into your house without picking up dirty dishes and checking your hair before they get there. I had a friend with whom I was really trying to build a close, honest relationship, and after almost five years, I still hadn’t seen her without her makeup on. If there’s makeup on every time you see someone, that doesn’t really sound like the home team to me.
This idea of a home team is difficult, I know, and fraught with disaster for people who prefer to believe that they really can meet the needs of the whole universe. What if someone needed something from you, but that person isn’t on the home team? There are exceptions, of course. I’m not suggesting that you lock down a list of seven and never help another person again. I’m so thankful for people who’ve allowed me onto their home teams when I needed it, even though they had a zillion other friends.
The first step is realizing that there is in fact a limited amount of time and caring and energy. I’m generally the last to admit this. I prefer to believe that I am the warrior queen of unlimited relational energy, and that a full calendar is no match for my capacity and skills. Right about then, I get the flu. Or my son does. Or I start crying in the car and can’t figure out why. It’s usually because I’ve given more than I should to people who actually aren’t a part of my daily, regular world. They’re not the ones who need it.
So I’m thinking hard about the home team these days, getting clear on who they are and who they’re not, trusting that God in his infinite wisdom can take care of us all, and that show-offy overachievers with savior-complexes need not apply.
Taken from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. Copyright © 2010. Used by permission of Zondervan. Zondervan.com. Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet. She studied English and French literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, and lives outside Chicago with her husband, Aaron, and their son, Henry. For more information and to read her blog visit shaunaniequist.com.