Last month, I found out that my friend, Jeanette, was going to be in town staying with our other friend, Susy. As much as I wanted to see Jeanette, I had decided to shut down any plans because my schedule was so crazy with work and travel, and I couldn’t take the time to either go to Susy’s side of town or cook for everyone at my house. (In my brain, these were the only two options.)
I hated that my busyness was going to keep me from spending time with one of my favorite people, but that’s what adults have to do sometimes, isn’t it?
When I hadn’t gotten back to Susy right away, I received a follow-up message from her:
“I know you’re getting ready to go out of town. What if we came to your house and brought dinner?”
My first reaction was no. It felt like the least hospitable suggestion I’d ever heard. I felt guilty for even considering it. But I knew that I wanted to see my friends, and I needed the help.
So I put my pride aside and responded, “That sounds lovely.” A few days later, Susy and Jeannette not only brought over homemade stew and Irish soda bread, but also an assortment of crafts that we worked on while chatting. We had a delightful evening. I got to hang out with my friends and enjoy an amazing Irish dinner and some seasonal crafts.
All because I said yes to an offer of help.
As I was preparing for my own holiday events earlier this season, I shared on social media that I have something called “The Help List,” prepared for people who come to my house for a big celebration. People who want to help can choose any task on the list, from loading the dishwasher to preparing the cheese board. I shared that I asked all of our adult children to plan, prep, and clean up one meal so that I wasn’t stuck in the kitchen all day, every day, and could hang out with our family. We only get to spend time together maybe six times a year so I wanted to make the most of it.
It wasn’t your typical contentious post that goes viral. Nothing earth-shattering. Just, you know, how to ask for help.
That post? Has almost two thousand comments. I normally get excited about twenty comments on one of my day-to-day posts.
To say it hit a nerve may be an understatement.
But why? Why is the idea of asking for help so, so hard, or even controversial? Some people were shocked that I wasn’t going to serve my family to give my adult kids a break, and some said that I was selfish for even asking for help.
We have been fed some very specific lies about the ideas of help from movies, social media, and in some cases, dysfunctional family members. Maybe you’ve heard some of these lies too:
1. It’s better to not need help. As a woman, we’ve been told by the media that one of the best things that can be said about us is, “I don’t know how she does it.” (In fact, there is even a movie with that title.) In other words, she does everything for her family, her friends, and her community without needing any help whatsoever.
2. What if I ask and nobody answers? What if I ask for help and no one wants to help me? What does that say about me as a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a friend?
3. Help triggers inferiority or arrogance. I have refused to ask for help on both sides of this scale. Inferiority says that I should be able to do this all on my own. If I can’t, it’s because there is something wrong with me. Arrogance says that I don’t want anyone else’s help because they just won’t do it like I would do it.
But here is the thing: we are designed to be both the helper and the helped. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (NIV). Not only are we to help other people, but we are to be on the receiving end of that help.
Needing help is a part of life and being asked for it is part of healthy relationships, but sometimes it can still be challenging. So what do we do?
Consider it a deposit. When I ask for help, what I’m trying to tell the other person is that I will be there when they need it. I want to ask for help so that others know that I am a safe person to ask when they need help too.
I should have known that Susy would have exactly zero qualms about bringing dinner. We’ve done that for each other dozens of times. Making mutual deposits into our friendship for years has not only deepened our connection but also ensured that someone we know will be there when things are hard.
Offer small and accept small ways of helping. Start with low-risk helps. “I’m heading to your house now and am stopping by the store. Can I pick up anything for you?” When was the last time you threw a party and had enough ice? The “I’m already stopping at the store” part makes it easy for people to ask for help without feeling like they are inconveniencing you.
You know you’re on your way to building friendships and community when are you not only regularly offering help, but also asking for it as well.
Want to learn more about a helping community in the mountains? Click here to check out Kathi’s book, The Accidental Homesteader.