When I regularly attended services at a small Mennonite church, I asked the pastor how he came up with good sermon material week after week. This is probably the clerical equivalent of “Where do you get your story ideas?” He said that, in addition to the scripture lined up for that Sunday, there were books of canned sermons and lists of common topics.
My Catholic upbringing had apparently left some gaps. “What are the twelve hardest words?”
“I am sorry, please forgive me, I was wrong, I love you. They’re on bumper stickers and all over the internet.”
Maybe written on the bathroom walls in seminaries? I’d never come across that list, but I’ve recently seen an internet post about compassion, generally, and it lists as the hardest words, “Help me.”
Not twelve words, but two. “Help me.” I surely do not say those words very often if I can avoid them. The last time I can remember saying them in a significant way was about twenty years ago, when I’d been laid off, I had a toddler to look out for, and I’d missed a mortgage payment. I was on the phone to my parents, putting on the brave face about starting my own law practice–slow, but coming along!–when my dad closed the conversation the way he has closed so many.
“Well, Grace, do you need anything?”
I got up the courage to ask for some help with the mortgage, and Dad practically ran to the airport in his bare feet and yanked a jet out of the sky to get that money to me. Twenty years and hundreds of mortgage payments later, I still recall that conversation… and my dad’s offer of help.
“Help me,” is complicated. It touches on pride, certainly, but it also entails risking that we’ll be judged for needing help, rejected for being less than self-sufficient, and miserably disappointed when our request cannot or will not be answered with aid.
So here’s my challenge to me, who has been helped by so many, in so many ways. This week, I will look around me, and instead of waiting for somebody to grow desperate enough to ask me for help, I will offer: “Is there anything I can do help? What can I do to help?”
I will spare the other person any uncertainty about whether they deserve help, or whether I want to help, and I’ll make the offer. I was endlessly, bottomlessly relieved to have my parents’ support all those years ago, but I might have lost my house before I found the words to ask for their assistance if Dad hadn’t asked me first.
Are the words, “help me,” hard for you? Are there even more difficult words? Has someone spared you having to ask, the way my parents spared me?
To three commenters, I’ll send $25 Amazon gift cards.