When my children were smaller and I always seemed to have an infant or be pregnant with the next, I would walk through the line at a church potluck holding two or three plates in my left hand and up my left arm while scooping out food with my right hand and glancing over my shoulder every few minutes to check on the children I’d left at the table. I cannot even count the number of times someone would stop to ask if I needed help, and I would answer, “Thanks, but I’ve got it. I have a system.”
I remember walking through the parking lot into the church for a MOPS meeting. I’d be pushing a double stroller with two little ones and have two or three other bigger ones holding onto the sides of the stroller. I’d have a giant diaper bag and a tote bag slung over my shoulder, and I’d balance a casserole on the handle of the stroller. One of the mentors would offer to help carry a casserole, and my first reaction was always to say, “Oh, thanks, but I’ve got it.”
I wanted to have my act together. I wanted to not be needy. I did not want anyone to think, “Why’d she have all those kids if she couldn’t handle it?”
So I did not ask for help, and I often did not accept help when offered.
When my husband was out of town and my children were throwing up and I had morning sickness, I did not ask for help. When my husband was out of town and I had a newborn and I was sleep-deprived and the children had respiratory infections, I did not ask for help.
When I had a four-year-old, a three-year-old, a one-year-old and a ten-day-old baby, I hosted a birthday party for my three-year-old. As I was holding the baby and pulling the chicken nuggets out of the oven, a friend offered to help and my initial reaction was to tell her, “I’ve got it. Thanks.”
I recognize this desire to be seen as self-reliant and put-together is really only pride masquerading as strength. I understand that this desire to be seen as someone who helps others but never needs help creates distance between me and other people. Stoic strength does not foster real relationship.
And I thought I was learning, changing.
Back in 2007, when I had a hysterectomy, I allowed myself to be vulnerable, telling my friends how broken-hearted I was about that surgery. I was honest about my grief. While I was in the hospital, one friend came and stayed with me for a few hours, holding a bowl for me as I threw up, helping me brush my teeth afterward. And for several weeks, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law took turns helping out in my home. I couldn’t even lift anything heavier than a jug of milk, so they would carry one-year-old BabyThing to sit in my lap or hoist toddler-ThingFive into his highchair. They cooked meals and cleaned my house while I sat in the recliner, humbled at my inability to do much of anything in my own home.
For those weeks, I had to accept help. I had no choice.
Then when my husband was in the hospital in 2009 and 2010, when he very nearly died, again I was humbled and needed help. Friends stepped in to care for my children, to bring meals, even to take out my overflowing trash, wash my counter full of dishes, and wash some laundry. Once again, my mother-in-law dropped everything in her own life to come step into mine. My sister-in-law took time off work to be with us in the hospital, to ask the doctors questions my tired brain couldn’t think of, to sit with me during my husband’s procedures, to stay with him so I could sleep.
Again, I had no choice. There was no shrugging off the offers of help with, “I’ve got it. Thanks.” I had no system for this. No way to balance all of these plates.
So I thought I had learned these lessons. It is good to be vulnerable, to need help. We bond with people, we grow in relationship, as we bear each others’ burdens. We are blessed when we acknowledge our weaknesses and accept help. I thought I had learned all of that.
Until a week or so ago.
I needed to see the dermatologist. I had a suspicious mole. Or so I thought. For days, I swallowed hard and took deep breaths and tried not to think about how the asymmetrical growth that had changed color looked exactly like the scary photos on that website about skin cancer. I was afraid — afraid the doctor would want to scrape or cut that growth, afraid it would hurt, afraid of the looks he would give to the nurse as they mentioned words like “biopsy,” afraid of what bad news might face me at the end of that appointment.
Did I ask anyone to come with me to that appointment? No. I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. And what if it turned out to be nothing? I didn’t want to feel stupid for having worried so much over nothing! So I went alone.
As it turned out, the growth was nothing. It’s a benign skin growth that looks very much like melanoma but isn’t. It’s so benign most insurance companies won’t even pay for the removal because they consider that procedure to be cosmetic only.
But that skin growth has reminded me that I haven’t learned quite as much as I thought I had in the past few years. I still like to think I’m strong and capable and have it all together. I still hate asking for and receiving help. I still like to balance all the plates on my own arm.
So I’m still missing out on the sort of friendships and relationships I’m meant for.
My goal for the next year is to be weak. Or, at least, to acknowledge my weaknesses and allow others to share in them, holding me up or bearing my burdens with me. My goal is to allow myself to be vulnerable and needy, to risk being an inconvenience, to risk feeling stupid.
I imagine this won’t be easy.
Do you have it all together? Do you pretend to? Do you find it easy to ask for help? How have you learned to be vulnerable and needy?