Love is an exchange of gifts. – Ignatius of Loyola
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:16
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Philippians 2:3-4
As children, many of us relished the opportunity to “help”.
In fact, quite often, adults were just giving us the opportunity to learn skills – tending gardens, cooking, cleaning, fixing things, preparing gifts, setting up to fish or picnic, etc., in loving company. We felt good about what we were doing, learning and contributing (if there was not too much criticism of our efforts or selves in the process). These experiences taught us how to contribute in groups and care for ourselves.
Helping others is a way to love our neighbors.
We teach our children to help others. Sometimes, we forget that this is a habit that adults need too. Moreover, in our US culture, we tend to be overly busy and distracted, so helpfulness is a holy habit that takes cultivation. We must be alert to see others’ needs. When we are extremely focused on our to-do list, our stress, and our concerns (whether they be for our individual selves, family, corps or job), then we can have a hard time noticing needs outside ourselves. If we don’t see where help is needed, we are unlikely to pitch in.
It can be easy to only see our own needs. For some, accepting help is easy. It can even be too easy. Always receiving may mean that we take comfort in being passive, in the seduction of victimhood. Everyone has wounds, but when we identify as one big wound, we forsake our new identity in Christ – forged by his healing wounds. We can start to believe that we have no power to act in our own lives or in anybody else’s. We can grow negative, get cynical, and give up.
Yet, no matter how hard the problems we face or burdens we bear, there is something we can give in love. God’s loving power relishes the chance to be shared as an encouraging word, a prayer of intercession, a hug or warm touch, and practical sharing. When we share a meal, a tool, a ride, an insight, a long night in a hospital, or a talent because we can without ulterior motives, God is pleased.
Letting others help us is also a way to love our neighbors.
When we are always the ones giving help, it may mean that we take comfort in being in control, in the seduction of invincibility or toughness. We may feel that we can trudge along through our problems, but others can’t. We may just feel a bit superior to the weaker folks, who obviously need help – or, at least, will take it.
Social work professor and author Brene Brown writes:
“Now, I understand how I derived self-worth from never needing help and always offering it… Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”[i]
God designed us for community. We are called to be more than a network of individuals, but rather a people. Receiving help can be particularly restorative for those who rarely take it.
When my grandmother was dying, and none of her children felt able to leave their full-time jobs or homes, they all pitched in and hired a live-in caretaker. For a couple of months, my mother – the oldest of seven, a mother of four, a teacher, a do-everything and more type, had to accept that someone else was caring for her mom. For the caretaker, having my mom and numerous other family members hand her car keys and send her off for long breaks and days off, bring food she liked and inquire after her, meant she could accept care from unexpected places. My mother and my grandmother’s caretaker were used to being tough – nearly invincible. Faced with the reality that they weren’t, in trustworthy care – they took help. And it healed.
We know that God calls all of us to help, so who are we to act like we can’t both need it and give it?
[i] Brown, Brene. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life. Center City, MN: Hazelden (2010), p. 21, 20.
Captain Maureen Diffley is the Program Specialist for Women’s Ministries at the Territorial Headquarters of The Salvation Army in Atlanta, Georgia.