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No Man Is an Island: Letting Someone Help Can Be a Generous Thing


Kirsten Andersen - published on 02/29/16

Next time you need help, do the ones you love a favor and ask them for it

As part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Aleteia has been sharing 56 ways we can show mercy in our everyday lives — a little more than one for each week of the year. This week has us at number ten:

10) Be generous enough to allow someone to help you; people need to feel needed.

If you’re anything like me, this is hard to do. For me, part of it is just my personality — I’m independent, and a control freak, and when it comes to the seven deadly sins, “pride” is the one the other six voted for in the “most likely to send me to hell” contest. (They were bored that day, I guess.)

Part of this is culture-related. If I’m independent and prideful to a fault, it’s at least partially because I was taught to be that way. Our culture treats “need” like a dirty word, because vulnerability doesn’t square the “can-do” circle.

No one wants to be a burden. No one wants to feel helpless. But here’s the thing: Sometimes we all need a helping hand, and when we refuse it, we leave those around us feeling exactly that — helpless.

A few years ago a close friend fought a tough battle against breast cancer she seems to have won. During her surgery, chemo and radiation treatments, I kept asking if there was anything I could do, and she kept saying, “No, I’m fine.” Having previously had cancer myself, I knew she probably wasn’t as okay as she claimed, but at the same time, she did seem to have everything under control, and I didn’t want to insult her by arguing. So I let her keep me and everyone else at a distance, feeling desperate to do something for her, but powerless in the face of her own self-reliance.

Now that I’m fighting serious and painful chronic illness of my own, I’m having to learn the lesson all over again, from the other side. The other night my husband snapped at me in anger. He had just come home from a long day at work, had stopped by the grocery store on the way back, picked up my medicine and some food and was just about to sit down to relax with some ice cream and Netflix. Meanwhile, I had been lying on the sofa in an unusual amount of pain, hemming and hawing over whether to ask him to bring me a glass of water.

The kitchen was only 20 feet away. I knew I could make it if I forced myself. But in that moment, the pain was stronger than I was. “Honey,” I began, hating myself for my weakness with every syllable, “I really hate to ask …”

Before I could finish, he turned to glare at me. I quickly shut my mouth. I figured he had just had it with me asking for stuff while I lay there being useless, so I abandoned the rest of my request. With a wince and a grimace, I brute-forced my way through the pain to fetch my own glass of water. The scowl on his face turned to total bewilderment. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Stay there. Just tell me what you need.”

I looked at him in confusion. “But you seemed so annoyed …”

“I just wish you’d stop apologizing before every request,” he snapped, seemingly out of patience. “Just tell me what you need. I just want to help you, and I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what you need, so stop apologizing and just ask me.

That’s when I remembered my friend, and how helpless I felt as she insisted she could handle her illness all on her own. I realized that as much as I care about my friend, my husband probably loves me more. So I apologized for apologizing, and then I asked for a glass of water.

When he brought it to me, I swear he looked almost proud.

I hope the problems in your life are less dire than cancer or chronic illness. But whether they are or not, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The people in your life — the ones who love you, anyway — don’t want to sit on the sidelines and watch you struggle alone.

Jubilee Year of MercyPracticing MercyYear of Mercy
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