This morning, a friend showed up at my door with a wheelchair for me. She and her husband found and bought it yesterday. I never asked for a wheelchair. Nor did I realize how much I could use one. All I did was ask for help.
Each year, some day or another, and usually when the wind blows hard and ice gloves the bare tree branches, I end up using a cane to walk. A partially botched childhood scoliosis surgery and multiple autoimmune diseases make a sorry partnership. It’s difficult to communicate just how mountainous every little task can be, from picking a dropped pen off the ground to hauling dirty laundry to consoling a crying baby. It was easier to cope with when I had no children. It was nightmarish when I was four months pregnant, caring for my seventeen-month-old, and crawling around my house because I couldn’t walk.
My greatest temptation in suffering is to shut myself in and close others out. Life demands otherwise. Bless my little children who need their mother. I’m learning to open up my life to the love of others. And while that may sound vague and emotional, it is, in fact, hyper-practical.
Realizing that most people go through periods of need—whether it be sickness, early motherhood, or something else—here are some things I’ve learned about asking for and receiving help (okay, okay, I’m still learning them).
Accept your need and discern specifics.
Take a deep breath and ask yourself some questions: how bad is this? Is my stress level normal? Am I non-functional at work or home? Do I have trouble getting to work? Does bathing children fire up a symptom that puts me in bed? Am I hopeless? Do I have thoughts of self-harm? Ask on.
Perhaps you’re sick; perhaps you have too much on your plate. That is okay. Your worth does not rest on your independence. It’s good to fall short sometimes—really, you end up with more love in your life.
Make a list of what help, specifically, would alleviate your burden: do you need someone to bring you dinner twice a week? Would help with laundry be better? Do you need someone to watch the kids every Wednesday so you can take a bath or get an extra nap? Maybe you need all of the above. Make your dream help list.
Sometimes you need help with this brainstorm. Enlist your husband, boyfriend, best friend, mother, or sister. They all want to see you get help, too.
Gather information on possible helpers, including professionals.
A few available people may immediately come to mind. But maybe no one does. One difficulty in the community of young mothers is that we often all feel overstretched, and are unable to offer each other the help we each need.
Think outside the box of your regular friends and family. Mothers of older children, younger single women, and responsible teenagers might be more available than your peer group. How can you find them? Do you know an active churchgoer who can put out an SOS for you? Can you contact your local high school or university? Many times teenagers need volunteer hours for one project or another.
Check out Meal Train to setup a schedule of donated meals. Another option might be to pay for help. Look into Instacart for grocery delivery, search your area for companies that will pick up dirty laundry to deliver back cleaned and folded, and Google for professional house cleaners. If it’s not in your budget, can you ask your mother-in-law, grandfather, or someone else to pay for it as a gift?
Swallow your pride and ask around.
This is usually the part when I cry, hovering over a text message like it’s my own severed limb. Really, it’s my severed pride. And oh, does it hurt. The voices taunt, “Faker! Needy! Attention-seeker!” But I examined that two steps ago, and I know it’s not true: I really do need help. So I press “send.”
You can press “send,” too! Some people may not reply. Some people won’t be available. That’s okay. Hang in there. Someone might know someone else. Be persistent. If you keep coming up empty, take a deep breath and a break, and dive back into Step Two.
Consider asking your spouse or a friend to send out a request or set up a meal train for you. Group messages, emails, or excel spreadsheets can simplify coordination, especially if you’re in for a new baby, surgery, or prolonged illness.
Receive help and rest up.
This article could alternately be called, “Humiliations on the Path to Peace.” Turns out, there are many. Receiving the help you’ve sought involves another level of accepting your weaknesses and limitations. You will have people coming into your home without its makeup on. Not to mention yours!
Use this time well. Some helpers may want to chat with you. If you’re up for the gift of conversation, that’s great. Maybe you need a little company. Just remember that this whole endeavor is to rejuvenate you, and that’s what they signed up for, too. Go take a nap, or a bath, or whatever you need to do to be well. If you’re in the early motherhood category, maybe you’re just plugging away on other chores while someone else does the laundry. Again, great. Make it work. Be friends, and be smart.
Safeguard against irritations.
You might come across people who suppose that because you have a need you can’t meet, you must be doing something wrong. Their advice can add an emotional burden on top of what you’re already enduring. This is not a time to get into it with them. Smile, nod, say thanks, and go rest. You don’t have to ask them for help again.
On the other hand, people outside the murky waters you tread can sometimes see both sharks and life rafts more clearly. Try to remain open to helpful suggestions. A wheelchair was nowhere on my radar, but I’m grateful my friend was both thoughtful and brave enough to offer it.
Safeguard your helpers, too. Don’t rely too heavily on just one or two people, unless you’ve had a really explicit conversation or you’re paying them. As enriching as service can be to the servant, burnout happens.
I wish this last step could simply be “Pay everyone back.” And there’s my pride again! The truth is, we’re all in webs of relational debt. Take our parents, for one. We can’t give back what they’ve given us.
The needy give something else, and that’s gratitude. Whether it’s verbal, written, or accompanied by a small gift, let people know how much of a difference they’ve made in your life! I pray often for those who have helped me. I wish I could do more, but right now, I can’t. And that’s why, thankfully, they’re all here.