Why Is Asking for Help So Hard?: Old First E-pistle 02.23.18

Why Is Asking for Help So Hard?: Old First E-pistle 02.23.18

Surely I am not the only one who has found himself in a situation like the one I am about to describe.

You recognize you are in some bind. And one or more people offer to help. And their offers are heartfelt and real. They mean it,  and they could be some really needed assistance.

And in response you find yourself saying, “It’s ok. I got this. I will figure it out and get it done somehow” … all the time watching yourself, self-aware that your are not being honest with your would-be assistant and not sure why you are turning down the help you desperately need???

Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone besides me?

Of course, there’s the problem-folks at the other end of the spectrum, the neediest cases who can’t seem to do anything for themselves. But let’s leave their issues for another time. Today, we’re considering why we don’t ask for help or accept it when it is offered, and we need it.

So let’s go a little deeper here, with a real life scenario. Vi, our new administrator resigned after a very short tenure, and after being out all last week. (Let’s pray she easily finds a job that suits her.) Then we had mold remediation in the basement that essentially kept us sealed out of the office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. And the wifi hasn’t been working since January, and even the internet started getting spotty, going in and out this week. And the the freezer stopped freezing, and we just had to empty pounds and pounds of smelly, rotting meat and casseroles.

But this isn’t a “woe is me” story exactly. I am calmly aware that  I can’t do two people’s jobs. And I know I cannot  accomplish certain things when I can’t get in the office. Or when I am alone in the office. Or when the kitchen needs attention. Some things just are not going to get done right now. And other things are going to have to be done differently for a time — the mail and checks are all caught up, but not all the filing will get done. And I probably can’t reconcile the petty cash account, to offer just some warning examples for the Treasurer!

“But I think I’m going to make it” (to quote a mentor in ministry). There’s no more mold in the basement. I have a plan on the computers. Trash, instead of getting picked up this morning, gets hauled away tomorrow because of the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, and we won’t have rotting food here all week. We have reopened a search for an administrator. We will get through this!

But did you notice what I did just there? I switched from first person singular to first person plural. Because I will need help and can ask for it and find it from other people in this community. That’s really why I am ok — my capacity to ask and this community’s willingness to help. It’s the blessing of community: not everyone has to be able to do everything; rather, if people help each other, there’s much greater capacity, experience and skill to go around.

Truthfully, we’ve been scrambling a bit since Teresa left in October. But Woody has been great covering  the office. And the staff– Holly, Alesha and John — is always good about pitching in to help each other out. And leaders from the congregation and a whole bunch of others have stepped forward and stepped up  too.

When we need help, I can ask and I can accept it most of the time. In fact, that’s an increased personal skill set I trace to a specific moment in my ministry at Old First. It was over 3 years ago, in the fall of 2014. We were moving into the plesging phase of the Capital Campaign, and suddenly, Mindy, our Administrator at the tjme, had to go out on unexpected medical leave. I knew I couldn’t do my job, cover the office and get out the Capital Campaign mailing we needed in time for our pledging date. I wasn’t even sure I could figure out mail-merging much less  exporting the data we needed into spreadsheets I could manipulate.

But the importance of the Capital Campaign moving ahead on schedule outweighed my fairly strong resistance towards admitting, much less asking for help.

I told Jonathan V., then the Admin. Group Leader, that I was going to need office help. And he responded without missing a beat, essentially saying, “Of course.” I was somewhat startled at how easy and fast that had been! Next thing I knew, I had Joey in the office, not only helping me with a very complex mailing that needed to be perfect. In the process, he also taught me about data management and how to keep our records clean and up to date.

Why do we resist asking for or accepting help? Especially when it’s readily available and heartfeltly offered…

I think part of the cause is cultural. We live in a nation built on a self-reliance needed on the frontier. It’s the myth of our national identity and what we see as our strength. Americans are ‘pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’ lone cowboys!

Another part is psychological. There’s some control and comfort in believing we can take care of ourselves on our own. In fact, we should really hope that everyone can be resourceful in the variety of environments and situations we find ourselves in. There is both creativity and stick-to-it-ness in the impulse of our independence.

And, I suspect, all of us have been at one time or another let down by someone we were counting on. For some of us, really let down. The lingering disappointments or actual difficulties or deficiencies we had to live through because of those lacks of support — these can cast a long shadow. They leave us thinking that we’ll never again let ourselves be vulnerable, needy or waiting on someone else. Wouldn’t it then be great if we could all be little Horatio Alger automatons who could take care of ourselves completely? Probably not! It sounds isolated and lonely, a little frightening and lacking the room for relationships and community… It’s also pretty inhuman: none of us can be self-sufficient like that.

And sometimes, our inability to ask for or accept help, it’s probably just neurotic– we find ourselves wanting or feeling some need to be martyrs.

But, Beloved, I think church is a helpful corrective to all this… At least it has been for me. Even through, as pastor, my experience of church is somewhat particular, I think church can help you learn to look for and receive help too.

We begin here with the assumption that all of us are imperfect, and as such, needy. What’s to hide? Why deny it? Ashes to ash, and dust to dust we said last week.

Even more than that, there always seems to be more need around church than there are resources. Maybe God keeps it that way so that there’s no doubt that we need to give, and conversely should also be able to ask. One of my predecessors in another congregation used to say when introducing the offering, “Give if you can; take if you must…” I don’t really believe he meant for people to remove money from the collection plate, but I get his point.

Paul uses the image of a body, and we all have our own part to play so that the whole can function well together, even more than the sum of the parts. At Old First, we talk about gifts God has given us, and how church is supposed to help us recognize and appreciate them and then find places to employ them for a good greater than ourselves. Givers need recipients, my friends. From an institutional point of view, one could say that as a volunteer organization, we do way more than our staff size allows. Because everyone can pitch in. I’m not supposed to do all the ministry (if ever I could); instead, I’m supposed to ask for your help, and make room for you too.

Alesha said to me recently, “I just need a whole weekend when I’m not at Old First.” Folks, our sister is asking for help. And our the amount we accomplish in Outreach Ministries is built on volunteer help, from within and well beyond the immediate bounds of this community.

The amount of garbage to be taken out each week, particularly during shelter season, is more than John O. could possibly do. Now he has a whole freezer of rotten food added to the regular load. But he has the men of the shelter who help him.

Some of our key lay leaders, I think their responsibilities are more than they can accomplish with the time and effort they have available for their church service. We need to find them more help and redefine some of thsese jobs.

Mark S. helps us straighten up the Sanctuary on Mondays, and since he has been doing it, he is heartened to see that his efforts make a difference. He told me this week, “Since I’ve been doing it, people have gotten much better about putting things back in the right place.”

We always need people to take better care of the plants up at the chancel. And, yes, I feel empowered by our current Administrator-less situation to ask for more help around the office.

I had to ask John O. yesterday to show me how to get the messages off the new phone in the office. Why then, when he said, “Do you just want me to listen to them all?”… why then did I say, “No, that’s ok; I can do it”? Ok, I’m not perfect, but I’m getting better! May you and the church continue to help me…

See you in church,