Inquisitive Part II: Asking for Help
Last week I did something my younger self would not. I asked my boss for help. I asked her advice, I asked if she would help me with something, and after the dust settled, I asked her to coach me on how I could have approached it better. I don’t think I could have done that ten years ago.
I got to this place the hard way.
My brothers will tell you about my independent streak as in, “I can handle this job all by myself.” (It’s an inside story from when I was about four.) I would generally rather muscle and squirm against a problem, my shoulder pressed hard against it and feet slipping in place. Unless I’m desperate, I have too much ego to ask for a hand. So after I lost my faith, I stopped asking for God’s help too. Half of this was unbridled pride, a notion that I should do it on my own. I believed in work ethic, in religious terms “works”, and I’d bought into the idea of worthiness. I thought God wanted me to earn it on my own.
That was so stupid.
I did not realize that my skills were pathetic, my vision limited, and my little house would soon be dangling from that dubious crane I mentioned earlier. An orderly life is no certainty, not even when we follow the rules, and breaking them with wild abandon is usually not such a good idea either. This leads me to the other reason I stopped asking.
I didn’t think I deserved help.
Why should God run around saving any of us from our choices when natural consequences were such a good teacher? It seemed rich to make damn fool decisions and then expect God to get me out. For the record, I think there’s some truth in all of this, it’s just a partial truth.
My younger self, the one who wouldn’t ask for help, was struggling on all fronts. At work, the family business was still recovering from currency instability in our biggest markets. Our customers woke up one day to hyperinflation, and they could no longer afford imports from America. We had too much debt and our sales plummeted overnight. I had made it my responsibility to fix everything, probably having watched too many superhero movies. So I worked my guts out all week and released stress by playing hard on the weekends. If I could push myself into shape and then have as much fun as possible, it would counteract the emotional exhaustion. Maybe too, I did not want to be sorry that I got married right out of high school, some notion of squandered youth. Just do, do, do and fast, fast, fast. “I don’t believe in regret,” I told myself, so I proceeded to make decisions that I would, in fact, really regret.
Did my error rise from pride that I should go it alone or was my miscalculation born of unworthiness that I shouldn’t be needy in the first place? Two sides of a counterfeit coin, I have since realized.
I was like a strong swimmer on a bluebird day. I thought riptide signs applied to the weak so I jogged past them and plunged into the surf. In something like twenty minutes, emotional currents had dragged me out. Way out. I squinted at the shore but didn’t want inconvenience anyone. I chose to be there, so I’d use those swimming skills to get back in. I swam a little harder and burned gas. I was slipping farther all the time. Still, I would not wave an arm to let anyone know I was in trouble. Not my friends, not my family, nobody. These were my spiritual problems, I thought. I would be fine.
It finally dawned on me that I needed help when I had stopped swimming, then stopped treading. I was floating on my back now, just keeping myself from slipping under. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help until I finally understood I would drown without it.
The day I broke a ten-year silence with God is still sharp in my mind. I had taken a day off work to be alone. I was slumped on the living room carpet with fingers clutching my hair, sobbing and repeating phrases. “I know I don’t deserve it, God, but I can’t ask anyone else. If I knew what to do next, I would just do it. But I don’t. I can’t. Will you help me?” Next, I calmed myself down and sucked in a very deep breath before I added this. “I am finally ready. I will deal with whatever comes. Just show me how. Will you help me? I trust you. Please.”
I somehow knew then that help would follow. I also expected a lecture. I never got one. Not from God and not from friends or family. The compassion humbled me even further and left me trembling with gratitude. Back to my original question: why would God rescue me? Why indeed. I had not accounted for love.
Rather than rubbing my nose in all the ways I had frittered away what had been given me, I felt enveloped in love. I was shown that I had potential. Self-loathing had prevented me from seeing it, but it was there. Love made all the difference. It gave me courage and it gave me hope. It made me want to.
Through this and other experiences, I have come to believe that God is not terribly interested in punishment or humiliation. He just wants us to fulfill our individual purpose. He is also a lifeguard on watch, waiting for the signal.
Why then, does God wait before stepping in? I do not know entirely but I suspect it has to do with agency. Perhaps this is an immutable law that cannot be broken. Perhaps it would rob us of learning, or maybe we would never appreciate the gift. Acting before I was ready would have deprived me the meaning of grace. I could never have intellectualized this concept; I had to experience it from the brink of starvation.
Asking, however, changes everything. Consequences remain, but miracles are possible. In experience after experience in my life—from the mundane to the spectacular—I have wept in awe after my sheepish requests were met with extravagant gifts.
There is so much about faith and religion that I do not know. I seem to grasp only glimmers of truth while corralling in a menagerie of questions. That said, I now believe in two ideas above all others. The first is the raw imperative to love. The second is the power in asking.
That experience a decade ago changed the way I approach life and allowed myself to lean on others, not just God. It nudged me to reach out to my boss last week. She responded with a gentle and sincere willingness to help. Her warmth touched me and she seemed pleased that I trusted her so much.
Humility is still far from my default setting and I slip into hubris like a warm bath. At least now, however, I have an alternative. I know that asking is better than drowning.