Asking for Help

Asking for Help
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s is about asking for help, even when we think, “I’ve got this!”

Apparently I value my life at twenty U.S. dollars. At least, that’s what I tipped the Mexican guy who saved me from drowning last week.

My daughter and I were vacationing in Cozumel, eager for some wonderful snorkeling. And while two of our excursions were highly successful, on one particular day we decided to snorkel right off the beach in front of a popular restaurant. The reef was teeming with life, but unfortunately the current was surprisingly strong. We had no problem swimming out, but when we tried to swim back to the dock, we kept veering to the right.

Within a few minutes a Mexican guy had swum out to us with a flutterboard, but I refused it. I’m a good swimmer. I can tread water for hours. I’ve finished swims that were several kilometres long. When the flutterboard was proffered, I was so embarrassed. “I should be able to do this,” I kept thinking. “Oh, come on, Sheila. This is ridiculous. Just swim harder.”

My daughter, who is a lifeguard, found it challenging, though she managed to reach the ladder. But though I got within about twenty feet of it, I couldn’t get any closer. All I was doing was standing still. So finally I reached out, grabbed that board, and was pulled in.

Looking back I’m not sure why I was so stubborn. I guess I just didn’t want to accept the fact that I needed help. I considered myself a competent, if not good, swimmer. If I took help, it was as if I would be admitting that I am not as in control as I think I am.

I wonder how often in my personal life I’ve done the same thing—I like to think of myself as in control, and accepting help is admitting weakness. None of us wants to think we are weak. Often we’d rather have the frustration of butting our heads against a wall rather than give in to the fear of being vulnerable.

No wonder so many of us are spending our lives treading water. Maybe debt is piling up and we honestly have no idea how to create a budget. But mature people know how to stick to a budget! Admitting you have a problem is like saying you’re not mature. So the red ink keeps getting redder.

Or perhaps that pain is getting worse, but we don’t want to go to a doctor because we hate hospitals, and we’re too young to start falling apart. Maybe the principal keeps calling reporting more problems with a wayward child, but you don’t want to admit that something’s really wrong because it could reflect badly on choices you’ve made. And so you lash out at the messenger.

My husband and I speak at marriage conferences, and while I love sharing our failures and victories, the conferences always make me a little sad. There are two types of couples who go: those who can’t keep their hands off of each other, because they’re blissfully happy and want to make sure it stays that way, and those who are about to file for divorce and are giving it one last chance. I always wonder about the middle: those who have a few issues that a little help could easily remedy, but who don’t want to admit they may have problems. And so they wait until everything blows up.

We aren’t meant to walk through this life alone. Certainly many of us just need to get more disciplined and try harder and we’d be more successful. But sometimes discipline won’t cut it. Sometimes you need help. And in that case, it’s far better to grab that flutterboard and let the hunky Mexican guy save you.

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  1. Great connections, Sheila! You got me thinking about why we don’t reach out for help.
    Is it society’s push for independence? The same one that tells us that we should live our own lives as individuals AND have a marriage and children and hold a full-time job all because we WANT those things (this isn’t a comment on working women).
    Is it self-reliance, forgetting to act on faith, first?
    Is it regression toward a more animal-like existence — not wanting to show weakness within the “pack” or in the wild? We did not evolve, but we can learn less decent behavior that bends toward survival instinct.
    Has “reality” television given us a “fight to the death” perspective that we have begun to adopt in actual reality?

    In the end, it matters nothing as to where our tendency to fight it out alone begins. We need to stop fostering so much — and learn to lean on those around us more. We will get closer to others that way, and we may have more opportunity to share our faith as a byproduct.
    Thanks! Have a great weekend!
    Amy recently posted…Honoring the In-LawsMy Profile

  2. ButterflyWings says:

    I can say exactly why many people don’t reach out for help. Because many people have and been hurt over and over for asking.

    Dealing with rejection, being laughed at and mocked by even those closest for asking for help even in extreme situations. Having people taking advantage of you for asking for help, abusing you for it.

    That’s why so many people don’t ask for help. Because they’ve been abused so many times in the past for asking for help.

  3. Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But, if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow. Lean on me, when you’re not strong. I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on; for, it won’t be long til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on. Please swallow your pride, if I have things you need to borrow; for, no on can feel those of your needs that you won’t let show. Just call on your brother when you need a hand – we all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you’d understand – we all need somebody to lean on. Lean on me when you’re not strong. I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on; for it won’t be long til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on. Just call on your brother when you need a hand, we all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you’d understand. We all need somebody to lean on. If there is a load you have to bear, that you can’t carry, I’m right up the road, I’ll share your load, if you just call me. Call me, if you need a friend, call me.

    Sorry, this post just reminded me of that song. :)
    Jenny recently posted…reminiscing about last nightMy Profile

    • DC Talk did a nice rendition of this song in their “Free at Last” album (is my age showing?) :)

      But it’s definitely a balancing act of knowing when to ask for help, who’s safe and reliable to ask it from/of, and when it’s time to hit the road running on our own two feet again. One thing is for sure: it needs to begin (and continue) with the Lord and prayer!

    • ButterflyWings says:

      It’s great if you have someone to turn to for help, but when you’re sick and in pain and desperately need help and you have no one who is safe to turn to, the idea of asking for help just makes you feel more alone than ever

      • I totally understand, but the truth is no one can help you if you don’t also surround yourself with people who can help. And there ARE such people. I think it’s incumbent on all of us to find a good church, to make an effort to find a good group of friends, and to put effort into volunteering and serving where we will naturally meet others. When we put ourselves into the place where we can help others and where we are helping others, then it’s easier to find people when we need help.

        I agree that many churches aren’t safe places to ask for help, and many families aren’t safe places, but then the only choice we have is to make the effort to find a place that is safe. Because honestly, the world is filled with people who DO want to help. We just have to make the effort to identify those people, and then to be helpful ourselves!

        • ButterflyWings says:

          After issues with the church I spent 30 years going to, I have spent the last three years trying to find a good church and no luck.

          I have been doing volunteer work all my life, through a church and outside of a church – great for helping others, not great for getting any support myself.

          I have reached out and tried to make new friends and only been used and abused in the process.

          I would love to return to volunteer where I have moved to with my new husband but I am too ill to even get out of bed many days at the moment. I’m lucky if I’m able to attend our new church at all most weeks and have been too sick to do anything social to make friends at church.

          I agree with you that most people who are alone and need help that volunteering and serving is the way, but when you’re too sick to even take care of yourself, it’s not doable.

          Right now, pretty much my only regular contact with the outside world is doctor’s visits and an hour or two on the internet when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep.

          It’s not helping that I had to move interstate for my husband’s work and had to leave everyone I knew behind and ever since getting here, I’ve just been the sickest I’ve been in nearly a year (I suffer from chronic illness). At least where we came from, his family helped me out a bit, but now we don’t even have that.

          Hubby doesn’t help, and the few people I do know here have the attitude of “it’s your husband’s job to help, he’s there, get him to do it” and don’t understand how difficult he is, that even when I beg, he often ignores me. And when it comes to practical help, people just tell me to pay someone and ignore that I have no money and hubby hasn’t got around to setting up any joint bank accounts or anything yet (we’ve been married 4 months) and would never agree to spend money on things he claims he can do himself – but never bothers to do.

          I’m just so lost alone. I’m tired of being sick and in pain and having to do everything myself and what I physically can’t do, just doesn’t get done. And the rare occasion someone does offer to help, hubby just tells them “thanks but no thanks, I can do it” and then doesn’t.

          • I have no advice and no words of wisdom for you, but for what it’s worth, I just said a prayer for you that God would intervene in your circumstances and bring you relief.

  4. Sheila, thanks for the great reminder. My husband has been in the Philippines for a week and and half and still has a half of a week left until he gets home. About 2 months before he was going to leave we hit a wall in our marriage. I think, looking back, we were tired; physically tired, tired of ministry, tired of life transitions, and we became tired of each other. We were snappy with each other and even though we would ask for forgiveness and work harder at our friendship our life was out of sync. And here he was leaving. I knew that I needed help so I asked a couple of friend with whom I thought I could be transparent with to pray that I would be kind to my husband, that I would be respectful and that I would love him the way that he needs me to love him. One of my dear friends said to me that it might be good that we were separated for these two weeks. That the time away from each other would be good for us. I totally disagreed with her right then, but I didn’t explain why. I was too shocked to think that she thought that separation would help. I felt like I was that person swimming and asking for the flutter board and the guy holding it said that he wasn’t going to give me the help. ugh. So I prayed for my friend and more for my marriage and my attitude. God is great at working at our hearts. God graciously allowed my husband and I to have some technology to keep in touch with each other throughout the time he’s been gone. We even starting doing our devotionals again together…via Skype.

    Whenever we figure out that we need help we need to ask. And when someone asks for help don’t keep the flutter board.

    My friend ended up praying for me and sending me such great words from scripture to encourage me via texting so that worked out ok…she ended up giving me a flutter board! 😉

  5. This really struck a cord with me! My husband and I seem to keep having the same fight over and over and just get to this point where we are stuck and too tired or overwhelmed to even fight about it anymore. Then we play nice for a while until things stir up again! We know that we both want the same things in our marriage and in our home but just can’t seem to get through thing together in a way that is helping. We’ve been talking and praying about getting some marriage counseling with our church and really hoping for a positive experience. It is hard asking for help…thinking that if we need to get counseling then something is wrong with us or we aren’t spiritual enough or something like that. I have tried to see it as just needing some teaching. That someone with more experience and practice can teach me how to make my marriage better! And God can work through another person to help restore and rebuild what has gotten broken.

  6. I discovered that truth recently: asking for help IS OKAY. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and things have usually been pretty easy for me. My life in general hasn’t been a huge struggle. But once I got married, I realized that I couldn’t do everything so easily anymore. I needed help and advice on being a wife and homemaker. Our parents have helped us make ends meet. We were recently GIVEN a car.

    My dad says, “Everything belongs to God anyway, so it doesn’t matter whose hands it’s in.” He’s right. It’s not shameful to ask for or accept help. God didn’t design us to be able to do life on our own. He even said that it’s not good for man to be alone.

    And when it seems like no other human is there to help, the Holy Spirit is ALWAYS with us. I take great comfort in that.
    Jaimie recently posted…I made yogurt, and it was good.My Profile

  7. I think too that Christians sometimes have a hard time asking for help because we feel like we shouldn’t be dealing with those issues. That’s how I felt when I came down with symptoms of PPD after I had my first baby. I should just be able to “give it to God” and pray it away! After I came out of it I realized how stupid that was. I made myself and my husband miserable, and for what? So when it came back after my second baby, and worse than before, I hightailed it to the doctor, got on antidepressants, and I AM SO GLAD. I had to get over the idea that it was a sign of weakness, a sign that I had given up and wasn’t relying on God. PPD was not something I chose to have, and it’s not something you can just choose not to have. If I were hurt I’d go to the hospital to get treatment, right? And that’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of knowing my limitations and when I need the help of others to get through something.

    I have a theory: God designed us to need each other. We were not designed to be individual islands. We were designed to be a nation. We’re much more effective together.
    Melissa recently posted…Stuff I’m Going To Do This YearMy Profile

  8. I too struggle with asking for help. I’m so stubborn I’d rather “fix it myself” than go to someone else and admit defeat. Why is it we have this inherent need to be strong no matter what? Last weekend I was feeling really down and instead of opening up about it I hid it. It all came to a head when someone asked me if I was okay. I replied “fine” and tried to keep walking, but she said “are you really fine or just saying that?” Of course a flood of tears followed by me trying to escape before anyone noticed. Even at home I was reluctant to let my husband in. I’m glad I did, but he had no idea I was struggling so much.

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  1. […] With thanks to Hot, Holy and Humorous for reminding me of this quotation! Now, can you all see what would have happened to Katie’s marriage if she had said nothing–and kept trying to do it all? What would that relationship have been like five years down the road? Don’t forget–sometimes we need to ask for help! […]

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