The Helpless Helper

Helpers find it hard to ask for help. 

A big part of the “helper” identity comes from the pleasure and position of helping. There is a certain pride in being able and capable of helping others, being in control and together, being stable enough to support others. I never self-identified as a “helper” until my minister pointed it out to me the other week. Since then there has been the sudden yet slow unravelling, the revelation of just how much my worth has been interwoven in this invisible role and title.

h e l p e r

Isn’t that the role God gave women? Back in the garden?

(Genesis 2:18)

It was not good that the man was alone, so God made a helper suitable for him.

An Ezer.

h e l p e r

Previously, as a senior resident in student accommodation, there were many opportunities for leadership and pastoral care in my daily life. Here, helping was easy. There was need, there was opportunity. But this year, moving out, I lost this avenue of helping that had became such a big part of my identity.  The challenge and reward of my previous “helper” role was gone, along with my sense of belonging, community and identity. I have ignored this for most of the year, fearing that my accumulating emotional weariness has been due to other factors. But I am slowly starting to see that underlying some of the turbulence has been this change in how I see myself – in how I find purpose and worth, in how I spend my time, in how I invest in those around me.

My role as “helper” has been threatened. There was never stability or structure in this identity. 

This year my identity has certainly been in crisis-mode, constantly questioned and challenged. My serving looks different, my loving and listening has changed. All the while, it has made me question whether I have been able to help others. The constant questioning of worth is emotionally and physically draining. The constant evaluation of self and efforts. The doubting of one’s ability to make a difference in this world.

Though this year has been a learning curve, a loosening of this stronghold in my status as “helper”, I am thankful for the turbulence. I realise that I needed to be removed from the student accommodation setting (and that specific role where helping was my “job”), in order to see how much I relied on this to validate my worth.

During my season as a senior resident, I remember getting to the point of believing that God would reward me for my serving. I thought if I gave more, helped more, that God would give me good grades and good things. What a lie!!! What a misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty and grace. How selfish. How distorted … Sometimes I am not sure how our thought patterns can go so haywire !! Hallelujah that God is so gentle with us, teaching us by his Word, convicting us by his Spirit.

In this current season God has been gently humbling me, reminding me of my helpless state before him and others. I have been humiliated by my fragility, sensitivity and lack of strength. In my inability to support myself let alone support others. In my need for help. But he has been with me. He has always been with me. Helping me. A far better helper than me !!

So what happens when I need help?

My identity has been so strongly rooted in my role as “helper” that the idea of needing to receive help was unfathomable. Unnecessary. It was never an option. That was, until this year happened. Suddenly the rug was ripped from beneath me. This seed that is my soul and spirit has been thrown against a wall and crushed into a million pieces … pieces I can’t pick up on my own. I need help. I need Jesus. I need others to support and love me. I can’t survive by only giving support and love, I need to receive it too.

There is this Christian phrase that goes along the lines of “unforced rhythms of grace”. Beautiful, yes. But is it realistic? My experience has been the need for mercy and grace to be forced on me, or else I don’t receive it. A rushing stream, fullness overflowing. Overwhelmingly strong against the weak attempts I make to go against the current.

I am willing to –
Give. Give. Give.
But to receive?
No. No. No.
Not me!
I am not worthy.
I do not deserve to receive.
But.
Isn’t that the whole point of mercy?
The very definition of grace?
u n d e s e r v e d
favour

There have been multiple times I have needed to bite my tongue and hold back tears these past months. I have been walking on thin ice. I have been fairy floss in the ocean, the water disintegrating the sugar that comprises my substance. I have been without a seemingly sure foundation for my feet. Oh the folly of trying to help yourself, to hold yourself together…. when you are falling apart. I am slowly learning to receive the help and support and love of those around me, rather than feeling guilty, that my identity is being threatened in the reversing of this helping.

Here is how clearly God has been teaching this lesson to me – 

My room has been in a state of war all year (probably a reflection on my mental state). Despite having finished up my degree over a month ago, the battlefield has remained abandoned, in ruin. The battle had not been won. In fact, if anything, it had gotten worse.The other night I decided at 11pm to spontaneously rearrange my entire room. Heavy furniture and all. It wasn’t like I had work the next day or anything …

Over these last few weeks there has been council clean-up in my area. Everywhere I was turning there was disorder, mess. Things in need of repair, restoration. And right next door, there was a white set of draws left on the street post clean-up. I walked pass this dresser for several days before realising this was exactly what I needed to keep my room contained. (Drawers for my clothes -how had I survived a year with only hangers and one exploding drawer?). Of course, I decided to initiate a solo mission to utilise this on the battlefield. In the near-rain. Across 10 metres. I moved that dresser inch-by-inch, swapping sides regularly. Not really making progress. Not really sure how I was going to get it up two flights of stairs to my room. But. Alas. I shuffled down the street anyway. Until. The miracle.

The helpless helper encounters a helper – and is forced to receive help. 

First, my housemate stuck her head out of the second-story window and offered to help. That made two shufflers struggling. Until. Miracle number two, when a young man appeared out of no where, offering to help me move it up the stairs. As he carried the heavy brunt of the dresser I was left wondering if he was an angel,  thanking and praising God for sending help while simultaneously repenting and asking for forgiveness for not seeking help in the first place, assuming I could do it on my own.

 These are the lessons you learn … See I probably should have asked for help from the beginning, instead of making a fool of myself.

I was fearing what others might think.
Afraid I would be perceived weak.
Afraid to show how much I was in need.
My room revealed how destructive it is to depend on yourself. 

Another realisation with this role as “helper” is my assumption that helping makes a difference, that helping actually “helps” instead of hurts. When. Sometimes. It doesn’t help at all.

What happens when “help” isn’t what people need?

What if my helping doesn’t help, but distracts from the real deal. How can my helping point people to Jesus, who promised to provide a Helper, his Spirit, who helps bring to our remembrance all that he has spoken to us (John 14:26). If I can’t accept others help, what does that say about how I am accepting God’s help? He is my help and salvation. I cannot help or save myself. I need him! That’s the sin. The assumption that I am in control and can keep control of my life without the need of others to help me. What a lie I have been living!!

My identity is not my ability to help others.
My identity is found in Christ.
Am I willing receive his Spirit’s help,
To allow him to support and strengthen me in every season,
To believe in Christ victory for me?
Am I willing to allow him to help, to move, to work, and most of all, to heal?
To remind me of my worth and identity in him?  

God has brought me to a place where I have been forced to ask for help, to recognise my helplessness. If you ask me if I need anything, if there is any way you could help … I am probably not likely to answer honestly. But maybe one day. Maybe slowly I will learn to speak up if I am in need. Maybe slowly I will learn to ask for help. Maybe I will start to put myself out there to receive. Maybe I will allow you to help me. Or maybe. Just maybe. We can help each other. And maybe. We can both receive the help of the Lord in our hours of need.

If you’re a podcast/youtube person, here’s a Killer sermon by Keller: “An identity that can handle either success or failure”

Respond from the Heart