Sometimes I Can’t, and That’s Good

My friends recently took on a home improvement project: a whirlwind weekend thing with painting and heavy lifting and other tiring things. I realized after it was all over they didn’t ask for help. They just did it all themselves.  

Then I thought that was kind of odd for my friends. We usually ask for help. Painting, moving, building, constructing, remodeling – we usually do it in packs, pizza for lunch, work that requires sore muscles, dirt under the fingernails, showers afterwards. 

It’s nice to get something done on your own, to have the sense of accomplishment, the “I built this”. But then there’s this even bigger “wow” you get when you invite someone else in to the process, the “we built this” effect. It’s like something that is hard gets done, but faster, and when you’re done, you have this friend you didn’t have before. A bond builds in the hammering and the arguing about paint colors and the gentle but slightly annoyed “you missed a spot” and everything that turns an individual’s pride into a community’s unity. 

It’s like letting people in on the work, letting them help you, is good for you and for them. 

The sweat builds the camaraderie, doesn’t it? [Photo cred: toddpylant.com]



I remember after college I didn’t much like asking for help. I was a campus ministry intern that first year, and I met weekly with this incredible, cosmopolitan group of college girls. There were the sparkling, hospitable roommates: Hayet from Algeria and Vivian from China, and the beautiful Persian and Japanese girl, Fatemah, from Japan. Sometimes she would take off her hijab when it was just us girls. There was Duchess, the fiery, spunky track star from Florida.  And I can’t remember the name of the girl from Brazil – her name began with O. And then there were me, Merrill and Jackie, the Midwestern brunettes who came every week to see what would happen next. 

It was so dynamic. Our conversation led to God, the gods; with Christians and Muslims and agnostics in the bunch, it was lively to be sure. And so beautiful. One of my favorite memories from one of the most difficult, out-of-place years of my life. 

But I had an agenda. I was promoting Jesus, you know, The Way, The Truth and The Life, and he sure needed some help so I volunteered. I felt compelled to be the WalMart, the place with all the answers. So each week I baked the goodies and tried to have something for us to talk about, some kind of activity. And all the pressure was on me to arrange everything and make the food and fill up all the roles so I could show how together Jesus was helping me be. 

That spring, I attended a missions seminar, and the speaker, a local preacher, came and talked about Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. He said Jesus did something outrageous here, besides just talking to a woman who was a social outcast. He took a big breath and asked her for a drink. 

Yes, so imagine this. Here’s Jesus, the Son of God, and he’s thirsty. Because he’s human. And of course he could just speak water into existence like he did the first time it was invented, but no, he sits down at this well, and he’s like, “Hey, would you mind helping me out with a beverage? I’m parched.” 

This always seemed like a strange move for such a powerful guy. But the speaker continued. He said Jesus empowered the woman to give him something, to be the one with something to offer, before he gave her what she needed, which in her case was redemption, compassion and someone to understand without judging. 

[photo cred: newprotest.org]



He let her serve him first. And this was what opened the door. Her service, her provision to him of something he did not have, gave her the upper hand. She had something this man needed. And this gave her value. Wow. What a humble person Jesus is. And so creative. 

I took this to heart. The WalMart compulsion fizzled under the weight of the new revelation. Jesus let others serve him, which empowered them to see their value and skill, and they opened their hearts to him. 

So I backed off, did less, asked for help. I let Hayet and Vivian bake, and we held our group in the dorms or in the girls’ apartment, and everybody helped. I got to breathe, stop being Jesus and let him do his thing. And we all felt much better. It turned out Chinese food made by a Chinese girl is quite delicious, but I would never have known if I’d kept at it with the poorly baked goods. (I don’t even like cooking, for crying out loud.)

We can do it all on our own, the building and child-rearing, the painting and gardening, the bathroom remodel and the gutter repair, the volunteer caroling at the nursing home or managing every single program in our organization. We can all just separate and work on our little tasks and come back together and talk about it. We can try to make God proud with everything we accomplished. 

But it’s just not as fun, not as big-thinking to do your own thing. And certainly not as effective. It’s the invitation in, the “we want you and we need your help” that builds other people up, the work alongside another that forges the bond and turns acquaintances into friends. It’s the admission, “You have something I need,” that turns an angry, rocky heart into someone who wants to help, to hear and be heard. 

I’m not trying to be fuzzy. This just worked. Took the heap of pressure off me and let others see I believed in them. It was a relief then, and still is now. And the outcome is always lovely. 

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One thought on “Sometimes I Can’t, and That’s Good

  1. Sarah,What a great and amazing post. If you only knew how often I think of our little group of married couples getting together. Such fun times! As always, your writing has spoken right to my heart. We're getting ready to move into our own home (YAY) but it's so easy to say we'll do it ALL on our own. Not wanting to put anyone out or let ourselves look helpless or vulnerable. Thanks for the refreshing words and a better look at our Jesus and how He works!

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