Ask me if it’s important to serve others – especially those who are most in need – and you will get an enthusiastic “yes.” (I might even throw in an awkward fist pump or a half clap if I’m still riding my morning caffeine high.)
This is especially true if we are talking about giving our time to help highly vulnerable populations – like children and families who are homeless, migratory, or living in extreme poverty.
But ask me if I believe that I should allow others to serve me, and I will absolutely agonize over my answer.
Realistically, I know that in order for the whole giving and receiving formula to work, we have to have both people willing to serve and people willing to accept acts of service.
This week, as we struggled with the day-to- day logistics of caring for an active 13-year- old who is on crutches, my husband and I were forced to realize we needed help. While we could figure out how to transport her to school in the morning, it was far more difficult to get away from work in time to pick her up from school each day.
As our stress levels spiked, I sensed the lesson I was being pushed to learn: “ask for help. There are people who would consider it a gift to help you – and to get to know your kids better. Don’t deny them that.” One part of my brain recognized that this might be true – that there are plenty of people who, like me, love getting to know young people and connecting with families.
And yet, I quickly canceled out that message. “I don’t want to be so reliant. I want to fix this problem using the resources I have. I don’t want people to think I can’t take care of my own responsibilities. These are my kids. It’s my responsibility to give them everything they need.”
So instead of just asking for help like a normal person, I posted on our neighborhood social media, looking for a college student or other adult who might be interested in getting paid to drive my daughter home from school each day.
Immediately after I made the post, people were responding on the page – and also texting and private messaging me – that they didn’t realize my need and would be happy to help, as long as I didn’t insist on actually paying them.
Walking into work with my phone buzzing with messages offering immediate assistance, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed.
For someone who insisted they didn’t need unpaid help, I sure was mighty thankful to get it.
We now have a plan for the remaining 2.5 weeks of school that will get my girl (and her 981,407-pound backpack!) to and from school safely.
A part of me still feels compelled to apologize to the people who will be helping. I can’t seem to stop saying – and thinking – things like, “I’m sorry.” “Thanks so much – I really wish we didn’t need this.” “We definitely owe you a favor in return one day.” “We need to have Matt make you guys a nice dinner really soon.”
Deep down, it’s eating at me – this feeling that I am incurring a debt. Or that I’m being needy. I worry I will take more than is intended. Or maybe I will be a less appealing friend, somehow, because of my need. The friendship bank ledger will be thrown out of balance.
My daughter – who unfortunately seems to have inherited my obsession with emotional bank ledgers – is saying the same things, “That’s so nice. We should get them something to thank them really soon.” “I feel bad that people have to stop their lives to come and pick me up.” “We really do need to repay their favor.”
Even though we are trying, I know we will continue to struggle with accepting this generosity. But when we do struggle – and when we are tempted to apologize profusely for having a need that we certainly didn’t plan – we will try our best to stop and remember the times we have helped others.
We will recall these times, not because we think those acts of service make us more worthy of today’s extra support, but to remember how much being able to help others has enriched our lives. We are better, happier, more connected people because of the acts of service that we have done.
We also will work very hard to remember that when we choose to accept help, we are choosing to have relationships with others – and to allow those relationships to blossom. In accepting what others give, we will be saying yes to connection and community, while resisting isolation.
We will do our best to smile, accept the assistance, and hope that the people who are helping feel that same sense of joy, connection and meaning that we have.
Then, because we are still works in progress, we we will probably insist on cooking them a nice dinner to say thank-you just one more time.