The gift of accepting help

  • Laura Denny
  • 8 July 2019

I should be writing this anonymously; anyone who knows me will assure you that I’m the worst at doing what I’m about to advise. But maybe that’s what qualifies me to say it—because I’ve had to remind myself of these ideas so many times and in so many ways, I have them well honed. Just know that this comes from a place of struggle along the way, not final achievement.

Here’s the problem: I’m horrible at accepting help. If I’m honest, delegating, relying on others or asking for help sometimes doesn’t even occur to me. From washing dishes to managing stress—even jobs that usually require more than one person—“I’ll just do it myself” is my almost subconscious mantra. I know this isn’t an issue for everyone, but I know there are others in my camp because, like many character deficits, it’s easier to spot in others before myself.

Despite (or because of?) my tendency to be a do-it-all, I also really love to help other people. Ironically, I often get frustrated when my offers of help are turned down, but that’s also when I feel the tension: if I continue to refuse help, why do I get frustrated when I can’t help others? Being on the other side of the equation is what jump-starts my realization that this self-sufficient attitude is indeed a character flaw that needs to be weeded out. However, sheer willpower to just stop doesn’t work. Replacement is more effective than discontinuance—as with most sinful tendencies—so I wanted a reason outside of myself to motivate my efforts to change.

I basically started with an adaptation of the golden rule (treat others the way you’d want to be treated). My version: accept help the way you’d want others to accept your help. When I find myself needing a little assistance, feeling overwhelmed with work or life, or being offered help from a friend, I’ll ask for or accept help offered me. When I’m in the position of providing the help, I know what a joy it is when someone accepts my offer. I remind myself that being the gracious recipient is as kind and encouraging as being the gracious giver.

The fact that accepting help is good and necessary is obvious in one sense—and when I do, there is less work for me! But even thinking about admitting that I can’t do it myself often brings a myriad of associated feelings: guilt, obligation to reciprocate, a sense of debt, shame, embarrassment, inconvenience. So why is it still good? Because, uncomfortable as it may be, I’m learning to confront my limitations and pride. I don’t think it’s over-spiritualizing to say that these are circumstances that the Holy Spirit is using to refine my character into a more humble and gracious member of the body of Christ.

My natural self wants to be independent and self-sufficient; not only is that impossible, it’s also stubbornly prideful. I was created to live dependent on God and in fellowship with the people he’s put in my life. Continuing to insist on doing it my way is ultimately just me finding a way to get by without God. It ignores his good design: us living in community.

The foundation of my Christian life—my salvation freely given to me by Christ’s work on the cross—requires that I set aside my desire for self-sufficiency to instead fully lean on God’s grace. In fact, it’s taking off (even putting to death!) living for self and putting on a dependence on Christ. And so the way I live day to day should reflect this foundation. We have a tendency to find ways to earn or repay our salvation—because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Likewise, when I refuse help I haven’t earned or can’t repay, I’m stubbornly attempting to live life on my own terms instead of accepting humility and grace.

As I’ve been striving to learn this lesson of gracious receiving, I’ve begun to see that looking for ways we can rely on our family in Christ is a tangible and beautiful way to display the beauty of gospel-based living to each other and our neighbours. Trading in our self-sufficiency for relying on God and the community he’s given us is a tangible way to demonstrate our beliefs. Serving and helping each other goes beyond accepting a meal after a new baby or lending a pick-up truck. The same principle of acknowledging our limits applies to emotional needs, parenting advice, caring for aging parents, spiritual growth, accountability and countless other ways. We were designed for fellowship and have been called to serve one another in Christ’s spirit and example. And we can only to this well when we both admit we need help and accept it from others—stirring one another up to good works.

“We rest by saying, both to God and others, “I am not enough. I need help.” And ultimately, the humility that leads us to confess our brokenness, both within and without, also frees us to grieve it and throw ourselves on the mercy of God. And this, more than anything, leads to rest.”—Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots