I rarely ask for help when it involves something personal. I’ve pretty much always been that way. My dad was the same way so perhaps I get that from him.
My father could, literally, do almost anything: carpentry, masonry, roofing, painting, sheetrock, carpeting, re-load ammunition, taxidermy, repair firearms … he was a Renaissance Man in many ways. He built two rooms onto our house, built a carport, and installed a fence around the property. He never asked anyone for help. He took pride in being about to say, “I did that.” An electrician by trade, he could also oil paint.
For my part, I’d like to think that my not asking for help also comes from being self-reliant but, in truth, it likely is a matter of pride. If he did it by himself should not I also me able to do it, whatever “it” is, by myself? Pride, however, can be a problem as well as an asset. Not asking for help has cost me in the past.
In a job I held after high school and before marriage, I worked for the father of a girl friend. One day he took me into a warehouse and told me to “straighten things up and put stuff where it makes sense.” I had no idea what he had in mind. In retrospect, I think it was a test of some kind. I didn’t ask questions, didn’t ask for clarity or direction, and puttered around for a day accomplishing nothing. If it was a test, I failed.
In my first full-time pastorate I knew enough to know that I had no idea what to do. I had a superintendent in the denomination who would have helped me, and was willing to do so, but, by this time, I had finished college and was a Marine Corps veteran and I saw it as a sign of weakness to ask for help.
I also thought that he would see it as a sign of weakness on my part. So I didn’t ask questions and, ran into so much trouble, and felt like I had failed so miserably, I left the ministry for about two years.
Over the years, I have gotten better about asking for help — especially when it involves an organization, a church, a project, or to help someone besides myself in need. But when it comes to personal favors, I am still loathe to ask anybody for anything … unless I plan to pay them.
I suppose there are reasons for my reluctance: I don’t want to inconvenience people. I don’t want to misuse my position as a priest. I don’t relish the idea of being beholden to people. I don’t wish for people to agree to do something when they don’t really want to do it. I don’t want to be like some ministers and others I’ve known who continually mooch off others. The list goes on. But I come back to that pride thing. I simply do not like to ask for help for something personal.
I don’t feel the same way about asking people to donate their skills, time, abilities, and treasure to a worthy cause — say, the church. I’ve recruited teachers, leaders, youth workers, participants for a work day — whatever needs done. And, I try to do my bit as well. I think it’s important for a leader to really lead, not just talk about it.
A few weeks ago, I bought a dump truck load of firewood. We have a fireplace and winter is much more bearable with a fire during cold weather. It’s my first time purchasing that much wood. The truck came, dumped the wood in the front yard near where it had to be stacked, and drove away. I’m told it was about three cords of wood. That’s a lot of wood. A lot. I simply stared at the huge pile periodically over the next few days.
One day, my oldest son said he and his two daughters were going to come over and stack the wood. I told them I wanted to do it myself and thanks but no thanks. The next day, I spent about an hour and a half stacking wood. It didn’t even make a dent in the pile. I had a sore back, aching shoulders, knee and hip pains, and hurting muscles for my trouble. I stopped stacking and found some Tylenol.
A few days after that, my middle son came over and brought his wife, his son, his son’s wife, two teenage daughters, and a 3-year-old daughter to stack wood. I ordered pizza for everybody and, after dinner, we went out to stack wood. I say “we.”
After all, I was certainly not going to sit by like some old man while they did all the work. And it was work. Hard work. But everybody pitched in. Even the 3-year-old girl was utilized making piles of loose bark and “bad wood,” or oddly shaped wood that was difficult to stack.
When it began to get dark, I tried to call a halt. I said I would finish it tomorrow. They ignored me and kept going. So, I did, too. Finally all the wood was stacked. Total stacking time elapsed: One and a half hours. It would have taken me days, perhaps weeks.
Joe Cocker, Ringo Starr, and others have recorded the song, “I Get by With a Little Help from My Friends.” You’d have thought, at my level of chronological maturity, I’d have learned that lesson by now. And I am aware of the saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” But I’m usually on the giving end and don’t mind that at all. But it feels awkward and uncomfortable to be on the receiving end. I’m a reasonably good giver but not so great a receiver.
When I had my knee replaced about four years ago, later that day, I had to go to the bathroom in the hospital. I had to let the nurse know and a very nice, very young lady came to my assistance. We got into the bathroom and I said, “I can take it from here.” Holding on to the belt she put around my waist, she told me she had to stay with me so that I wouldn’t fall. To have a young woman the age of my granddaughter assist me at that moment was embarrassing. But, policy is policy. The next time I just didn’t tell anybody I had to go. That pride thing again.
I am aware that we are not islands and that we all need a little help now and then. I am truly grateful for the help in stacking wood. I am grateful for all the things that my kids and grandkids do for me. I am grateful for those who come along beside and give assistance. Any organization or society is dependent on its members to help lighten the load. You’d think as a pastor, I would have learned the lessons I have taught.
So, I’m trying to learn the lessons now. Every now and then we all need to get by with a little help from our friends.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/ He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]