My father tells a story of the time when my family did not have much money to speak of. It was unknown from where our next meal was to come from. Unbeknownst to us children, hampers of groceries were frequently left on our doorstep by anonymous donors. On one such occasion, my father met one of these donors, a kind old gentleman from our church. Coming fact of face, not with the groceries but his own uncomfortableness with needing help, my father instantly began to refuse the gift. They would be fine, he objected, no gifts were necessary. The gentleman simply smiled and said ‘Without one to receive, one is not able to give.”
We like to believe that we can do things alone, that we don’t need any assistance. It almost seems as if this is the default position of modern life. After all, many idealize such mythical notions as ‘the self-made man.’ We chase what is popularly called ‘The American Dream’, but we know that it is really nothing more than the lie of the garden – You shall be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:4-5) How can we be like God in our own day and need the assistance of another?
Because of this we often associate the receiving of help with inability or weakness. We easily succumb to the lie that tells us that needing help highlights a deep lack and/or negligence in our lives. It is embarrassing – an embarrassment we desperately try to void. Receiving help, worse yet asking for it, means we are trapped in that which we cannot do. It strips away our self-focused confidence and our egotistical pride.
Of course, offering help is another thing altogether. We laud and esteem the qualities of service and helpfulness! There is no problem with extending a helping hand to another. It is even encouraged. But helping others is entirely different, for in this we are able to remain stalwart in our sense of competence. It means that we are powerful, we are able, we are steadfastly in control.
A popular YouTube video poignantly portrays this dynamic.
We would like to think that this dynamic doesn’t occur in the church, but it does, albeit more subtly. The community of faith is naturally a place where people are willing to lend help at a moments notice. I have seen it many times. People give sacrificially toward a cause, a fund, or a family in need. It happens time and time again – the call goes out and the response is overwhelming. People dig deeply into their pockets of resources and give sacrificially. Yet so often these same people, so very willing to lend a hand to those less fortunate, will not allow others to help them. There may not be swearing, or rude behaviour, yet there still is the refusal of offers and rejection of invitations. They do not open up about their needs, or their hurts. To ask for help is just too uncomfortable.
Asking for help can be hard, because it displaces that throne of pride that so many of us carry deep within. There is a certain amount of humility that is needed in asking for help. We must be open and honest, not just about our abilities, but also our inabilities. In asking for help we are called to recognize the gifts of God, flowing through the talents and expertise of other people. It forces us beyond reliance on ourselves or our own competencies, and asks us to see our lives lived within the context of the community.
Asking for help moves us away from the rampant ‘Me-and-Jesus’ type of individualized spirituality that so often dominates our religious landscape.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul lists a variety of spiritual gifts. “And God has appointed in the church fist apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.” The King James Version used the term ‘helps’ in reference to the spiritual gift of assistance. Receiving help, then, allowed another person to exercise their spiritual gift, a gift exercised to the glory of God and the livelihood of the faithful communion.
What if we chose to understand the receiving of help in this manner? What if asking for, or receiving help spoke, not to our weakness or inability, but to our love for the community of faith – a love that causes us to lay down our need to pridefully assert our own independence and allow others to express the grace and love of God to us?
We all need help. Sometimes this is because we cannot do something, or do not know something, and we need to reach out to one who has the resources or knowledge to aid. Sometimes receiving help is more about allowing a brother or sister in faith to minister to us in the love of God. So when you uncover a need in your life – a need that you quickly attempt to swallow under your own competence, perhaps choose a different route. Take a deep breath, ask for help, or accept help when it is offered. Don’t make it complicated, and attach no provision onto it. Allow no bargaining to take place. Just receive. Be forthright about your need and make the decision to see the help given as God’s response of provision and love for you. Allow that help to lead you into a deeper dynamic of God’s kingdom, a kingdom which is not yours alone but is experienced fully through the community of faith.