Ask me if I need help.

During the last few months, I’ve been learning rather painfully and against my will how to ask for help.  I don’t think I’m alone in hating this.  Pride is a powerful thing.  Tied up in it is not wanting to appear needy, but it there’s alot more going on… a desire not to burden others.  Not to crack open my own pain or worry and lay it down on them when they’ve got their own struggles.  The voice of my mother telling me as a pre-teen, “Be like Grace Kelly, Julia. Poise, always.”  Poise.  I hate that the word sounds like “poison.” They don’t share any history, etymologically, but my experience tells me they ought to.  I’m an eldest daughter, with all that comes along with that – heavy responsibility, skipping right from toddler to adult, high expectations academic and social.  Some of it explicit, most of it simply the undercurrent of family systems.  The need and desire to appear well when things are so not-okay-in-fact-really-terrible is a burden.  The need to appear poised is a burden.  It sets you up for failure because you can’t show brokenness… expose vulnerable places, and the conceptions of others are shattered.  And the eldest daughter in me then feels obligated to pick those pieces up and put them back together.  So why share?  Why be open? How does one gracefully descend from a pedestal?  How can one ask for help when it’s impossible that such a one could need anything, anything at all, let alone something another has to give?  Except… that’s lonely.  And it’s impossible.  Because not a single one of us, not you, nor me, can do or be all things to all people.  And perhaps others have taught me to be this way, but I’ve gone for it: hook, line, sinker.  I’ve accepted sole responsibility not only for my own “stuff,” but also for the emotional and psychological well-being of everyone around me.  I’m not saying I’ve done it well.  After all, this isn’t healthy.  I’m simply saying it’s the result.  

So, during a time of life when honestly every single thing seems either to be moving toward a conclusion or a major change, I’ve learned two things: 1) How much I can handle and 2) Exactly how much I should not handle without help.  Make that three things: I’ve also found that, upon asking for help, people desperately want to give it.  I’ve been joking lately that my friends should consider me to be like Sandra Bullock’s character in her movie 28 Days, the one where she’s in rehab.  She’s on crutches and is being resistant to the program, which she desperately needs.  Resistance is pretty much her mantra.  Resistance to the rules, to change, to acceptance, to honesty.  Resistance to realizing that she can’t do it on her own.  So her counselor forces her to wear a sign around her neck that states, “Ask me if I need help.”  And people do.  Of course, she resists wearing the sign and then refuses much of the help offered, even when it is physically impossible for her to accomplish her daily tasks without assistance.  She’s foolhardy and bull-headed.  She is us.  She is, actually, me.  

About a month ago, I was doing some soul-searching and realized that one of my greatest assets, the thing that I have almost unlimited resources in, is my group of friends.  I was talking with them, some of them anyhow, about various things that were struggles for me, but I realized I was more comfortable talking “around” problems than naming specifically what I needed at the time.  I was not asking for help.  So, slowly, I began to ask.  The look on people’s faces was not disappointment, or irritation, not even that slow backing-away one tends to get when asking for a “favor.”  It was… gratitude.  My friends wanted me to ask for their help.  And they were excited to give it.  Glad to help me move, to listen, to offer moments of silence, a place to stay, connections to resources I need.  Honestly, for about a week, I was absolutely flabbergasted and confused.  

Then I realized something that might be patently obvious to other humans but was completely opaque to me… to allow people to offer what they have to give, what they can give, is to accept that they are valuable.  To refuse to ask is, really at its most basic level, to make a rather bold statement that other people can add nothing to your life, that they have no worth.  I believe that every one of us is and can be sufficient unto ourselves, meaning that each of us need not depend for our emotional selves on the existence of other people.  We can be fully, authentically “us” only if we are self-aware and understand that nothing another person does to or for us changes the core of our being.  However… we were built to be in community.  As a Christian, I’ve been told countless times that I’m a member of the Body of Christ.  I can’t be all of the parts, and the part I am requires cooperation with the parts all the others are.  I am, you might say, the best “eye” simply by being it, by being myself, but I need my friend who is fully a hand, or a heart, or a foot in order to do what I was made to do in community, in order to fulfill my role.  When I admitted that I was, in fact, in need of help, the people who responded did so because I had finally given them space to use their gifts to their full potential.  Not asking for help had limited them in who they could be in the world.  They could have said “no,” could have decided that was not where their energy should go that day.  But these did not.  Instead, they opened themselves up, in large and small ways, and gave of themselves.  

And it didn’t hurt me, at least, as much as I expected.  They might view me differently than before, but there’s a burden that’s now lifted because I don’t have to pretend that the perfection and self-sufficiency are easy burdens to carry… life is much more complex than that, and we are not made to be alone on the journey.  Asking for help isn’t easy, but I hope it will become less difficult over time.  Perhaps more beautiful.  I hope you’ll ask me for help so that I can receive that gift, too.

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4 Comments »

  1. embracethecall Said:

    “…and it didn’t hurt me.”

    thank you for this.

  2. Jim Bingman Said:

    Thank you. This post means a lot to me and i’m proud of you. Most of all it makes me realize that I need to ask for help, not pity. So, from time to time, I will be asking for help. Thank You.

  3. Robin Said:

    “She’s foolhardy and bull-headed. She is us. She is, actually, me.” Wow. Thank you for your vulnerability. Asking for help is hard. And you have articulated so beautifully why we need to do it.

  4. Darren Said:

    Bingo! Now your getting it; both of you actually. Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be if you don’t try to own all of it yourself. You have not seen me lately because no one has asked for my help – I go where the need is and it is not always evident without the request. Keep the faith and call if you need anything, or e-mail – either of you – I’m here.


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