I recently read a post from Joy Bennett over at Joy in this Journey called Independence: The False Gospel Destroying American Christianity and it resonated with me because I learned about asking for help about a year and a half ago and it’s been on my mind ever since.
I completely agree with her that asking for and accepting help are hard lessons to learn. We’re groomed in America to be independent. I was raised to be a strong, independent woman. Asking for help is not on the list of acceptable behaviors for the proud. It’s a weakness.
But in October 2012, I gave in. Here’s the story. My husband and I closed on our first house on October 10th. We decided that first night in our first home, we would get take-out and spend the night even though there was no furniture yet, eating dinner and sleeping on blankets on the floor. In the middle of the night, Chad got sick. For the next two days, he laid in agony in bed in our apartment (not our house), suffering from what we assumed was food poisoning. It wasn’t. When we finally went to the hospital, his appendix had already burst and he was taken immediately to surgery. Because it has burst, some of the infection had gotten into his abdomen, requiring some extra care and he spent a week in the hospital. We went home with lots of medicine and instructions, only to find ourselves back in the hospital a week after we’d left because the infection had returned.
Now in October 2011, a hurricane hit New Jersey, flooding the state, including the hospital where we were. The National Guard had to be called in to get doctors and nurses in and out of the hospital because the parking lots and roads were a river. So in 2012, when the weather report said another hurricane was coming, I had to choose: go home by myself and risk not being able to go back to the hospital, or stay and potentially be stuck there (but at least I would be with my sick husband). So I decided to stay. That’s about the time that Chad got an infection on top of an infection, and I about lost my mind.
The hurricane did hit. The parking lot did not flood, and in fact, nothing much flooded. Instead, every third tree in the state was ripped out of the ground, most people I know lost power, roads and businesses were shut down for a state of emergency, and the Jersey Shore was a wreck. The hospital lost power, which means they lost their ability to cook. They fed the patients cold meals, but there was nothing for the few family members who were there. But that was okay with me… for the first day or so.
When something bad happens and people ask you what they can do, I never know what to say. I meet each need as it comes and generally don’t plan ahead, so it’s hard for me to have an answer ready when someone offers help. But this time was different. I couldn’t meet my own need. So when my friend Shelli texted and said, how’s Chad? What can I do? I said, things weren’t great, he was still really sick, and I was really hungry. And then I asked her to bring me some food at the hospital. It’s the first time I can actually remember not brushing off someone’s request to help. It’s the first time I remember asking someone to go out of their way for me.
Shelli came to the hospital with two bags of groceries and refused my money. She said, I didn’t know what you liked, so I got everything. She wasn’t kidding– a sandwich, a salad, nuts, fruit, crackers, chips, drinks. I think there was even a magazine in there. I couldn’t even hug her because I hadn’t showered and one scary nurse told me that I had probably contracted Chad’s infection and was going to bring that infection home to my whole my family (comforting, right?) But I could say thank you and keep my money without fighting over whether I should pay her or not.
Since then, I’ve been more conscious of accepting help and offering help. I’ve noticed my feelings around these situations: I want to help. A lot. And others do, too. A couple months ago my friend was recounting a rough experience she had had and I was almost hurt that she didn’t call me to help, because I would have. I would have made time and done whatever I could to be there for her.
Accepting help isn’t easy, but I think it’s more about the relationship than anything else. It’s about allowing your family and friends to enter the struggle and walk alongside you, not because you’re weak, but because it’s better when you’re not alone. It’s about saying, yes, I need you.
And the actual task doesn’t really matter– washing the dishes, babysitting, paying a bill, picking up groceries– it’s about letting people help when they can and want to. Because family and friends (and sometimes even strangers) want to help. And I think that’s because we’re designed to crave community. It’s innate. We want to know we’re an important part of a larger group that needs us. Allowing someone else to help can be an act of grace. And it strengthens your relationship, because you’ve let them in. You’ve said, I trust you with this. I trust you with my struggle. And I need you as a part of my life, and that means allowing you to be a part of this.
So I’m working on this. It’s not easy to let people help sometimes, but it’s important to building my community. And I want to help, and use the things God has given me to help the people around me. Because we don’t have to do it all alone, and that’s pretty awesome.