Building Community by Asking for Help

I recently befriended a woman in town with 2 children of similar age to my kids. We met at story hour, and after a few chats it was obvious to me that this woman was a serious Christian who attended church regularly and cared deeply about the religious upbringing of her children. We chatted effortlessly about church, local school choices, homeschooling, and cloth diapers, among other topics. As the spring session of story hour ended, we decided to make a playdate for our children to get together. We did so, the kids played nicely, and we decided to get together again. About 1 week later this woman called me with a minor “emergency.” Her 18 month old son had slammed his hand in the door and she needed to take him to the doctor for an x-ray. She couldn’t bring her 3 yr. old daughter, and so she asked if I could watch her daughter for a couple of hours. Sure, I agreed, and within minutes her daughter was playing happily with my children in the backyard.

As I sat and watched the children play, I realized that my new friend had done something that I am very hesitant to do: she asked for help. If the situation had been reversed, would I have called her up and asked her to watch my children while I took one kid to the doctor? We had only had one playdate after all. No, I would not have asked. I probably would not have asked after 10 playdates. I would have asked my mother or husband to take off from work, or I would have waited until I could pay a babysitter in the later afternoon hours. But why?

Is it because I’m Catholic and the community at most Catholic churches is a far cry from ideal. My new friend is an Evangelical, and since I’m a convert to Catholicism, I do remember a greater sense of community in my old Evangelical days. I think this might be a part of it, and possibly the topic of another post, but I don’t think this is the real reason I don’t ask for help.

Rather, the reason is pride.

After all, if I ask for help I come across as someone who doesn’t have their act together. Asking my mother or husband is different, as they know I don’t have everything together, but to ask a new friend, or even an old one, is tantamount to saying that I NEED the help of others, and that takes me out of my comfort zone. Somehow in my mind it’s ok to ask family, but somehow not ok to ask other friends, even other Christian friends who share my beliefs. I see myself as a leader, a rescuer, a helper, a woman who those in trouble can turn to and ask for advice or help. How can I be this woman and then need other people to help me?

I always complain about the lack of community in our individualistic suburban society. Every man or family for himself. Back in the day, when your barn burned down and caused a burden too heavy for one family to shoulder, the community chipped in and re-built the barn. Today we have fire insurance, and a culture where each family (or each person) is expected to shoulder their own burdens–or pay someone to do it for them. Asking a neighbor or friend to help is somehow less than ideal. But it is this very interdependence that makes a real community. We have to need one another.

In the past, I was a person always willing to offer help–and I felt that, by offering, I was somehow working towards building a real sense of community in our church and town. And I am. But community isn’t just about offering and giving, it is also about receiving, and doing so graciously. I can’t have “real” relationships with people if I am giving, giving, giving, but not also opening myself up to asking and receiving.

And that brings me back to my new friend. By asking for help she started a real relationship with me and did more to build community than the 50 unaccepted offers of help I have given out in the past several months. And that is an important lesson for all of us type-A mommies!

My new friend recently invited me to a get together at her home. I politely declined the invitation, as we have a very busy week. I explained in an e-mail how busy our family was this week, and she immediately responded by asking if she could watch the kids for me so that I could run some errands. My gut reaction was, “no, I don’t need her to inconvenience herself and watch my children, besides, I would be leaving her two kids and she only left me one.” And then I realized that if I don’t take her up on her offer, she will be hesitant to ask anything of me in the future, and I will put a stop to the great community web that I desperately want to be a part of building. And besides, I really can use the help!

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