When Helping is Messy

I’ve been praying about an email I received early this week. The digital missive was a cry for help. Behind the simple question the writer asked were a series of complex issues, like layers on an onion.

It sat in my inbox unanswered for a few days.

“I’m busy,” I thought. “I’ll reply later…”

Two days passed, then three. My perpetual goal of reaching “inbox zero” (never realistic, but always a desire) was being blocked by this note which refused to be filed away or deleted. I prayed, started and tossed three responses, and then pulled out the big guns.

I called my Mom.

The smartest woman I know is well acquainted with the email sender and the complicated life circumstances that exist. She listened to me explain my quandary, heard all of my excuses, and wisely offered a few options. In the end, I chose one Mom’s suggestions and was able to compose a reply to the email. As I filed it in my digital records (not the trash), I prayed for God to take this situation from me.

The lingering malaise in my heart over my lack of “action” indicates to me that the situation is not over. Despite my (albeit reasonable) excuses for not getting more directly involved, this is not a problem that will be resolved with a digital checklist of resources. I know that.

But… (insert numerous reasons I can’t and shouldn’t be more hands on here)

Helping — really helping — is often not tidy. It’s also frequently not something that you can put on a checklist and “complete”. With some people, the more you help, the more you’ll be drawn into the sickness, the evil, and the root core of their problems: the sin.

Jesus knew this. How often in the Gospels do we see him ministering to the broken? He never took the easy route and also held his disciples to a higher standard. He set a high benchmark for being a true follower.

But… (reiterate logical reasons for not getting involved here)

Sometimes, helping is messy. And guess what — often faith is too. That’s just the way it is.

In the end, will I be judged by my intentions, or by my actions? Therein lies the answer.

A question for you: Do you hesitate to help friends and family when you know you’ll be taken out of your comfort zone?

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.

  • Donna J

    That is a truly tough question. I have definitely been there myself, very recently. I think you did just about the smartest thing possible- call up the wisdom of another. That’s what prayer is, too, calling out for wise guidance. Messy or not, I think twice before jumping in to help now, but will forever be the helper-bee type of person that God has designed me to be.

    • lisahendey

      Donna thank you for chiming in. It’s so important to ponder before we act… I just wonder if I’m getting stuck too long at that phase. Thanks!

      • TheodoreSeeber

        For getting stuck long:
        1. Will somebody die through my inaction?
        2. Will somebody be permanently damaged through my inaction?
        3. Will I lose an opportunity through my inaction?

        If the answer to all three questions is no, then praying and thinking and looking for advice is the *correct* option. ONLY if the answer to one of the above questions is yes, is action required.

  • Nancy Ward

    That is usually my first reaction: “No! Not now!” because I am so busy working from my own unredeemed flesh, my agenda. Doing nothing is seldom an option. But I know that I often need to wait and pray a little because I never have all the answers and don’t want to give a flippant answer to get rid of that uncomfortable nagging. Is that the Holy Spirit nagging me? He does until I either act rightly or have peace in my heart because of his wisdom. Sometimes, like you, I need discernment from someone with a different perspective to get that peace.

  • alwr

    Why do you boil the need for help down to sin? People need help for so many reasons that are not because they sinned. As someone with family in desperate need of outside help right now due to illness and genetic impairments, I am so offended by that…And they hate to ask others for help. Perhaps this kind of assumption is the reason.

    • lisahendey

      Thanks so much for commenting – you’ll note that I said, “with some people…” before making that remark. I certainly don’t mean to imply in any way that every person asking for help (or not asking) needs help because of sin. Obviously that’s not the case – and I am so very sorry for your suffering.


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