*Originally written for IF:Table discussion groups.
I’ll never forget the day my mom fell from her bed. It was 7:30am and I was in the midst of frantically getting the kids ready for school. You know the drill - brushing their teeth, making breakfast, packing lunches, and walking the dog. My mom cried out in pain. It was the day after one of her many chemo treatments, so it was quite a messy situation. She had pancreatic cancer for nearly 7.5 years, yet this last phase was the harshest. Her body had nothing else to give.
I looked outside and I saw my neighbor, a fellow mom with three kids, taking out her garbage.
I opened my front door, which caught her attention. She waved hello and asked, “Hi! How are you doing?” I answered, “Oh, good...I’m good. How are you?” “Great. Are you okay?” I had a choice in that very moment. Was I going to figure this out on my own...or will I reach out and ask for help?
“Oh, I’m fine.” I didn’t ask for help. Instead, I closed the door, cried as I got my mom cleaned up, finished packing lunches, and drove my kids to school an hour late.
I look back at that whole period of caregiving for my mom and it was by far the loneliest and most isolating time in my life. I blamed it on the chaotic juggle of navigating all of my newly appointed nursing duties on top of work and raising my three young kids. I got frustrated at the visiting nurses for not staying long enough. I felt hurt by certain friends who I thought would “be there” for me more, yet they were just living their happy lives as I was struggling at home alone.
Then, it hit me. It was me. I never asked for help. So, how were they supposed to even know? I acted like everything was okay. As the worldly burdens weighed me down, I was also being crushed by prideful self sufficiency and fear of feeling needy.
Feeling like a burden is the #1 reason why help is not exchanged. The person needing help feels bad asking for it because they fear being an inconvenience. The person wanting to help is overcome by feeling awkward in not knowing what to say or do. So, nothing happens. We are caught up in our fear of being a burden, which leaves us living in isolation hidden behind surface small talk.
Well, guess what? This is not how we were built to live. We are not meant to bear the burden alone. As humans, we are built to be communal and social. It is not only a nice thing to do, but it is our duty. The world is full of afflictions that distract us. Whether it is something that causes us to stumble or pain that makes us turn inward, community was created to distribute that weight in journeying together with the goal of restoration.
Most of us reading this are probably always willing to help others. We step up to do our part in carrying the burdens of others. However, if you’re like me, I would guess that you’re not as good at asking or receiving help. A friend told me something that changed everything for me. “We are interdependent. Needing help is temporary for everyone. Asking for help actually gives others an opportunity to be an agency of mercy and grace. Asking for help give others a chance to live out the law of love.” If we are never vulnerable enough to ask, the law of love never gets fulfilled. It’s not a one way exchange. It only works when we call upon each other to distribute the weight.
It was a gradual change in mentality and behavior, but I’m now more vulnerable and willing to ask for help. My relationships have become deeper, more meaningful, and real. Loneliness isn’t about being physically alone. It’s about carrying the burden alone. If we all commit to sharing and catching each other’s burdens, life on earth will still be full of afflictions. However, we will no longer be alone in it. The very act of loving one another in this way lightens whatever weight we’re facing and ultimately strengthens our hope in eternity.