When I was pregnant with my first child, my affluent cousin advised me to hire someone who could come talk care of the baby one-half day each week so that I could get out of the house. Out of surprise and skepticism, I laughed in her face. We have never had money enough that I could pay for regular help.
Fast-forward five years. A woman from church dropped by to pick up a DVD I had borrowed. She saw me outside with my children, then aged 4, 3, and 6 months and nodded. “Ah,” she said. “You are in the under-five tunnel.” Seeing the quizzical look on my face, she explained. “When all of your children are under five years old and you have no adult to talk with. Would you like me to stay a while?”
Here lay a fork in the road. The broad path: “No, that’s not necessary! The kids and I were just going to go for a walk. We are going to swing by the library for their lap-time read-aloud program and then pick up our organic groceries at the co-op.”
The narrow path: “Oh, for the love of God above, please do. My vocabulary has diminished to sight words, and I haven’t had a shower in three days.”
I chose the narrow path, and that woman has been coming to my house weekly (for free!) for well over four years. It is a phenomenal blessing. It started with an offer. And it was accomplished with a fiat.
I hear regularly from friends and acquaintances — accompanied by a long sigh — how they wish they had someone to come help them. The odd thing is that the same woman has offered her services to most of our mutual acquaintances who have small children, and this is what she hears. “Oh, I don’t know what you would do!” (My response: Are you kidding me? This woman will hold babies, wash dishes, take kids to the park, whatever you ask!) “Oh no, we’re fine.” (Seriously? Market your wellness strategy to other moms with young children and make a fortune!) “That’s nice. I might take you up on that.” (Never to be heard from again.)
There are profound reasons to ask for and accept help that have nothing to do with showers or grocery shopping alone. Asking for help builds the virtue of humility; accepting help builds community.
When I was pregnant with number three (and before the advent of the woman described above), my husband was working full-time and had gone back to college part-time to earn his bachelor’s degree. I worked part-time and was coping with my second son’s severe food allergies. My mom had passed away a couple of years before. We didn’t have many solid church friends, but we had gone to the Christ Renews His Parish retreat. I was low on energy, time, and hope. Out of desperation, I emailed the group of women from the retreat to see if anyone could come help me with the dishes. The smell turned my stomach just walking into the room, and my husband’s time was taken between work and school.
Within minutes I received a reply — from someone to whom I had not intended to send the email. He was a 60-something man who had been part of the men’s retreat. He told me to name the time and give him the address, and he and his wife would be there with dish gloves.
I was so humbled. It had been hard enough to ask for help from women my age. Never would I have asked this man, though a fellow parishioner, to come do my dishes! I actually received multiple emails offering help, so he never had to come to my rescue. Though he probably doesn’t even remember the incident, the event made me love that man.
His wife died recently, and my third son and I went to the viewing. I wouldn’t have gone had that misdirected email never happened. By asking for help and by his enthusiasm in coming forward, a bridge was built between our hearts.
How does it make sense to acknowledge you need a Savior but to refuse help from His people? It’s a peculiar form of American individualism and Pinterest-culture to need help and then to refuse to ask for it or accept it. It is counter-cultural and good for your soul and for the community to ask for help, accept it, and offer it (even if you think it’ll be rejected). There is humility in acknowledging a need. There are friendships to be made via working on a project together.
Moreover, it is an act of charity to accept help. How often we think of The Giver as the one extending charity. However, the recipient who allowed the giver to give the gift is also extending charity. Sure, I get out of the house. But I share the vivacity of my children and an intimate look into our family life with those who help us, and, despite our imperfections and our bad days, I am certain that each one of them would say that she has received a gift in return.
6 tips for asking for and accepting help:
- When someone offers to help, the answer is Yes. Always. I have had people offer to help whom, frankly, I wouldn’t trust to watch the kids. But I can take a shower or organize my room upstairs while they read books to the children downstairs.
- This one is very important: God sends help, but it often is not the help you want. I have had help from a motley crew over the years. I would immensely prefer to have a mother, a sister, or a close aunt come to my rescue. That has not been my luxury. Accept help, even if it’s from an unlikely source.
- If you need help, start praying that God would send someone or inspire you to ask someone specifically for help. Be creative! And if you are told “no,” regroup and ask again. It’s not going to work out perfectly every time.
- When you ask for help, be specific regarding the need and give a time frame. “I need someone to watch the kids on Tuesday afternoon so I can take the youngest to his doctor’s appointment.” “I need some alone time; can you take the kids to the park for one hour next week?””Can you help us paint the stairs sometime this month?”
- If you have something to offer back, offer it. “We’ll watch your kids for a date night.” But don’t let your lack of ability to help someone else hinder you from asking in the first place!
- If asking for help is hard for you, focus on the fact that you are building community by reaching out. We can all look perfect on Facebook while living miserable lives alongside one another, or we can start making connections by being authentic and humble.
If you read my blog, you know that I am far from a perfect mom. However, people often comment on the patience I have with my children. I am convinced this is because I have help! I am certain that were I to go at this motherhood thing alone, I would be a far more impatient and snarly mother. So if you can’t bring yourself to ask for help on your behalf, do it on behalf of your children.
God made us to live in community; He Himself is a community of persons. One of the greatest weapons the enemy has is in isolating us from one another. When we let down our guard and let others see our need, we truly advance the Lord’s work. You don’t need to do this alone!
Copyright 2018 Amanda Woodiel