Help is not my favourite word. I think I have a hangover from toddlerhood. My instant response when someone asks if I need a hand is a more grown-up version of “I can do it myself!” Paying attention over the last month, I have recognized a few of my favourite ways to refuse: “Thanks, I’m good,” “I think I have got it,” or “No, please just bring yourself.” My responses to the offer of help have revealed an embarrassing false belief I seem to have, that needing you means there is something wrong with me.
I feel like my life has been a collision of signs lately that I need to pay attention to help. We have three kids and a puppy, and even when we are at our best as parents, Marc and I are outnumbered. We both work. Life offers so many good things and we do not want to miss out, even while we work hard to have more evenings and hours at home doing nothing.
Everyone is so busy, and I am hesitant to ask for help. I barter with myself, asking someone only if I can set up an immediate opportunity to repay the favour. I ask friends to help and refuse to let them do what I’ve asked unless they accept money. Thinking about the effort of asking, I just do it myself. I apologize to others that I am asking. I feel guilty for not being able to do it all.
Because God works in fabulously random ways, I picked up a book by accident at the library this month, The Art of Asking, by American rock star Amanda Palmer. The book is based on a TED talk by the same name. We are different people, she and I, walking different paths through the world, and I was captivated by her humanity. As I listened to her experience about receiving connection and help from people as an artist, she shared something that filled my eyes with tears, and challenged my false belief. She writes, “Asking for help with shame says: You have the power over me. Asking with condescension says: I have the power over you. But asking for help with gratitude says: We have the power to help each other.”
Ouch. I am sad to say that I only reach out for and accept help when I have reached the limits of my own capacity. Embarrassed and at the end of my rope, I ask out of desperation with an apology for troubling you. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have asked for help without shame.
The strange this about my feeling unworthy of receiving help is that I really love being asked for help. I love when someone needs something and I happen to be the person who can respond. I feel connected and human when I can respond to someone who has a need. Matthew 7:7 says, “Knock and the door will be opened to you.” So why have we made heroes out of the people who open the door and beggars out of the people who knock?
Along with my preference for helping and rejection of help as a rule, my perfectionism has led me to disconnect the things I do from the people I love. Way too often, I pick up socks in my house with resentment toward the people who left them there. I make dinner because we all need to eat but I have no joy in the serving, in the helping of my family to grow. Somewhere, the wires of love between my hands and my heart got disconnected.
And the whispering I have been hearing from God is help. Ask for help with gratitude. Receive it with gratitude. Give it with gratitude. And it is painful. Three times in the last week I have sent text messages with tears in my eyes. The asking is painful in the same way that I brace myself for a medical procedure. I am afraid I will need you. I am afraid that what you offer will not be what I need. I am afraid I am not good enough.
And every intentional request has come back with a joy in being asked, a response that was not what I expected, an offer to do more, to do what they can, to connect. I am making asking for help a practice, a discipline, when I need it, but even more when I do not need it. Slowly, I feel like each act of asking, each reception of help, each thank you I offer without apology – each act is reconnecting my hands to my heart so that I can feel the love of the people who are only too happy to help me when they can.