learning how to ask for help

So, how do we learn to ask for help?

1. Learn something new.

My running project has been great practice for learning how to ask for help. I’ve got some friends (and a son) who know much more than I know, and I am aware that as a new older runner, I know little and can damage a lot. So I ask for advice. I ask about strategies. I offer plans and wait for responses. I am humble about my running knowledge because I have to be. I’m hoping that this is also teaching me about how to ask for help.

2. Find someone you know you can ask for help.

When we know we’ll be criticized, it’s hard to ask. But I’ve got a couple people who I can talk with about Bible questions as colleagues. We’re off-line, conversational, comparably experienced and ignorant. We are helping each other.

3. Consider asking God for wisdom.

This isn’t some shortcut or spiritual thing. Not exactly. But James tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God who gives it generously without saying, “It’s about time, stupid.” So if we pay attention to the way that God teaches us, we can learn something about asking for help.

4. Spend some painful time examining why it’s hard to ask for help. 

When I was learning how to live more healthy, I asked myself questions about why I eat. When I started getting angry with our dog in the middle of the night, I asked myself questions about why I was so angry. And I’m spending little bits of time asking why I find it hard to ask for help. What am I afraid of? How much of my identity is tied into knowing answers? What am I trying to hide?

So, what are the next four?

What if asking for help is okay?

I asked her how I could help her through my writing.

She answered, briefly. Then she said, “What about you. How can I help?”

I sat very still. It was mostly a sense of emotional paralysis. I realized that I didn’t know how to answer that question. And I didn’t like the feeling.

For many of us, it is easier to offer help than receive it. Unless, of course, our world is collapsing. Then we will consider, briefly, accepting the help of other. But short of a death in the family, job loss, or fire, we aren’t sure what kinds of things we can let other people help us with.

It could be a form of pride, not wanting to be beholden to others. It could be shame, the fear that others will discover that we aren’t as competent as we pretend and then they won’t trust us.

For at least some of us, we are so focused on loving one another, as Jesus commanded, that we are unwilling to consider that it may include being loved by one another.

downsized_0524041524.jpgI know. We think it’s about learning styles, that we best understand things by reading about them rather than asking for instruction. Or we were ridiculed once for asking foolish questions so we never again risk asking anything.

But what if asking for help is okay? What if it is admitting that we are human? What if we really do need comrades and community and caring for each other? What if every time we refused to ask for help, we were saying. “I’m better than you because I can give help and not need it”?

Doesn’t that sound arrogant?

I must confess, it does to me.

So with your help, I’ll start working on being more open to help. Will you?

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From Life Together.

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read and teach some high schoolers from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book about Christian community, Life Together. We were looking at the chapter about life alone, about time spent in meditation, which for Bonhoeffer includes Scripture meditation, prayer, and intercession. Here are some of his comments.

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The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear. He is not really seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time, the very alienation that creates the deadly isolation of man. 66

Let him who cannot be alone, beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. 68

The Word comes not to the chatterer but to him who holds his tongue. 69

Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s work, and coming from God’s work with a blessing. But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails. 69 (Written in 1938)

In our meditation we ponder the chosen text [of scripture] on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us for this day and and for our Christian life, that it is not only God’s Word for the Church, but also God’s Word for us individually. 72

It is not necessary that we should discover any new ideas in our meditation… It is sufficient if the Word, as we read and understand it, penetrates and dwells in us. 73

Prayer means nothing else but the willingness to receive and appropriate the Word, and, what is more, to accept it in one’s personal situation, particular tasks, decisions, sins, and temptations. 74

A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. 76

Intercession means no more than to bring our brother into the presence of God, to see him under the Cross of Jesus as a poor human being and sinner in need of grace. To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy. 76

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.

A clean pot

IMG_0026In a kitchen, a really good kitchen, the kind the makes the absolutely best meals, there are many different kinds of pots. Some of them are shiny stainless steel with copper bottoms. Some are thick stainless steel. Some are porcelain coated in beautiful colors. Some are battered, old, heavy aluminum.

And in a kitchen, a really good kitchen, there are many different kinds of uses for those pots. Sometimes the chef uses the best-seasoned frying pan for the house specialty. Sometimes the soup simmers for hours. Sometimes the fat trimmed off the roasts are tossed into a pan where they sit for the day. Sometimes grease is poured into something for days until it finally is tossed out. And sometimes, a shallow pan sits under the baking pies, catching the drips until it is coated beyond cleaning.

It’s the cooks that decide what to use, not the pans. But if the pans could make choices, it’s likely that they’d want to be used by the chef not the clean-up guy, and for the best use they are made for, not to merely carry slop.

So wouldn’t we say to those pans, “Do everything you can to be ready for the chef to use you. Be clean. Be well-tempered. Be on the shelf, not in the back room.” And wouldn’t we say to the pans, “It’s not how pretty your original colors are that makes you useful, it’s being available any time, and it’s being useful when you are used.”

Does this image make sense?

Because it’s an image Paul uses in talking to Timothy about being prepared. Paul encouraged Timothy to be clean, to be useful to the master, and to ready for doing good work. Any good work. Whatever the master chooses.

So here’s to clean, well-worn, useful pots.

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The bottom line

She walked up to me after a church service. “Can we talk,” she said. We stepped away from the crowd. “Can I have some toilet paper? We’re out at home.”

She knew we had a closet with paper goods. We got it for a few cents a pound from a local non-profit that distributed paper and personal products and diapers and cleaning goods. They got it for the price of shipping from the returns center for a major discount chain. It was a great deal. Toilet paper by the pound is cheap.

How did the returns center get it? Because packages snag. Because things get returned. Because people go to the store and need toilet paper. They open a big package and take one roll.

A couple months ago, the returns center closed. This week, the non-profit closed. But people still need toilet paper.

Not all of us, of course. Some of us can afford to throw it into trees, rolls at a time. Some of us have both dry and wet tissues.

But some of us have to ask for help, quietly away from the crowd. People with kids, or medical bills, or other challenges. People with full hearts and empty hands and cupboards.

I know that there are a variety of reasons that people can’t afford things we consider basic. But I also know that it’s pretty easy to meet basic needs. Giving away two rolls of every twenty we buy would help.

I knIMG_0011ow. You could just buy a package with the equivalent of 72 rolls, or a case of facial tissue, or a pallet of paper towel. And be done with it. And food banks or shelters or churches with helping hands like ours would be grateful.

But I think that a weekly or monthly sharing would keep the need fresh in our minds. And just think. Several times a day we’d have a reminder to pray for people who need things like toilet paper.