Sunday, March 14, 2010

The ones in your path

A few weeks ago, I really needed help. I work hard to be an independent person, and to maintain that "illusion" of self-reliance, I avoid asking for help. But after a death in my family, I just couldn't do everything by myself. So I asked for help. And some of the people I asked said "no."

I was already feeling overly emotional and vulnerable, so having them turn me down felt worse than it normally would have. I ended up getting the help I needed from other people, but I still spent a few days playing poor me. "Why don't they care about me as much as I care about them?" I wondered. "If I was willing to drop everything for them, shouldn't they do the same for me?" And so on. The more I focused on what I hadn't gotten, the less I remembered what I had: other friends who stepped in to help me when I needed it.

I have thought a lot about this in the past weeks. I wonder if other people have that feeling when doing favors or asking for help from friends and family. I didn't think I was keeping score, but part of me must have been if I was so focused on getting what I needed from one or two particular people. Do we avoid giving help because we don't want certain people to "owe" us? And do we avoid asking for help because we don't want to feel indebted to them? Does it really matter who helps if we get help when we need it?

I guess I've been treating favors and "helping" kind of like putting money in the bank. If I made a deposit in a certain way with a certain person, I expected to get it back in kind. (And if I couldn't bring myself to say no to them, I expected they'd never say no to me, either!) But that's silly, and things don't work that way. Sometimes the people we help the most can't return the favor. Some people need a lot of help, and some — let's face it — just won't reciprocate. Sometimes they will say no. Maybe we shouldn't let that influence whether we say yes or no to them?

Maybe being helpful is more like an insurance policy, or like investing in good will. Maybe if all of us just help the people we can, when we can, there will be someone to help us when we need it? In her book Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, Chaplain Kate Braestrup says, "Love whoever needs what you have; love the ones who have been placed in your path.” The ones in your path may not be your family, or even your friends, but maybe that doesn't matter?

What do you think? Do you find it easy to help everyone you come in contact with, or do you save your favors for those closest to you? Do you have a hard time asking for help like I do? Please share your thoughts!


  1. I truly enjoy helping out when I can, and I like offering my help without the expectation for someone to help me. On the other hand, I tend not to ask for help so I do not feel obligated to help. Now that I type this, it seems weird to say it. If I am willing to help without the expectation of receiving help, then why should I worry about being "obiligated" to help someone who has helped me?

  2. Melissa, it's interesting, isn't it? I have a hard time saying no...but thinking about other people saying no to me made me realize it really is okay for me to say no sometimes, too. The experience of asking someone new for help was really positive. Maybe it'll be easier to ask next time? Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  3. We're talking about this topic over on the Facebook page,'re welcome to join us at

  4. I also spent much of my life willing to help others and reluctant to ask for help myself -- yet I expected that when the need was obvious, others would step in without me asking, as I would do. A few intense experiences with relatives showed me that wouldn't necessarily happen -- and ironically (yet not surprisingly), when I stopped expecting people to step in, my friends did.

    I learned that if I'm going to give of myself in some way, I have to do it because I want to, with a free and open heart. If giving to someone else means I don't have enough for myself, or if I'll resent it, then I need to say no. Of course, saying no isn't easy. I wasn't able to say no until I was flattened with depression, so depleted it literally took me a few hours to get out of bed and brush my teeth. I'm grateful I learned in my twenties that if I say no, the world doesn't fall apart and people don't hate me.

    Thank you for this conversation, Emily. You've inspired me to start an Angel Song blog. : )

  5. I think that's really wise. To give of yourself only if you can do it with a free and open heart must prevent any resentment or bad feelings afterward. Learning to say no and feel okay about it is hard. I'm still learning!

    I'm so glad that you've started your own blog! I'm really looking forward to reading it!

  6. I have a really hard time asking anyone for anything. I like to think it's self-reliance but mostly, I think I'm afraid that people will say no; I EXPECT them to say no. But then, if we never ask, we don't give people the chance to say yes too.

    Likewise, I can't say no to anyone either, whether I want to help or not. I feel obligated to help. Again, I think it's the fear of the consequences if I say no (they won't like me, they'll be angry, they won't help me the next time I ask). I'm a peacekeeper so "rocking the boat" terrifies me. As a result, I can be a bit of pushover which isn't fair to me and sometimes leaves me a bit resentful.

    What I'm learning these days (trying) is that it's ok to ask for help and it's ok to say no to requests made of me. Hard habit to break. Harder still to step away and think each situation in terms of "why am I not saying no" or "why am I not asking for help in this instance?" I find it's more an internal filter (a perception) rather than a reality.

    Without risk, there's no growth, right?

  7. You've really hit on many of the thoughts and feelings I have, too, Lisa. Sometimes I don't ask because I convince myself they'll just say no, anyway, and I know it will make me feel bad! Silly not to even give people a chance. I also worry about the "consequences" if I say no. Dealing with the reality of a situation rather than what I perceive is important for me, too--and difficult.

    YES. You have to risk it in order to grow. I'm learning. Thanks for your comment.



Related Posts with Thumbnails