The One Thing We All Need (But Hate to Ask For)

help

Photo Credit: Bigstock (mbolina)

I was drowning.

For a couple of months last autumn, on Wednesday afternoons, my three kids had a meeting for the school newspaper, musical rehearsal, swim lessons, dance class, art class, and basketball practice. And my wife was working. While I like to pretend that I can do everything, sometimes all it takes is a Wednesday afternoon to remind you that you are not, actually, God.

So, on a Wednesday afternoon, I asked for help.

I asked one of our new friends in town—whose kids also attend some of the same activities as our kids—if he could take our daughters to dance class together. An hour later, we were both picking up kids at art class when I offered to get the girls from dance. He declined. For some reason, it made me feel anxious, so I asked again. He looked back at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “No thanks, I want you in my debt.”

I want you in my debt.

Poet and author David Whyte writes,

Help is strangely, something we want to do without, as if the very idea disturbs and blurs the boundaries of our individual endeavors, as if we cannot face how much we need in order to go on.

To need help is to be human. To embrace our need for help is to embrace our worthiness—to know that while we are not strong enough to be without needs, we are still good enough when we are in need.

But to ask for help?

To ask for help is to be vulnerable—to hand our fragile sense of worthiness to someone else and entrust them with it. To ask for help is to test the foundation of our belonging—to trust that our people will keep us around, not only when we are helpful to them, but also when we are helpless before them.

To ask for help is to be indebted to others for the life we are trying to live.

 Every transformation has at its heart the need to ask for the right kind of generosity…[this] vulnerability is the very door through which we must pass in order to open the next horizon of our lives.

Help is a door someone holds open for us, and walking through it requires great courage, because any door you can walk into is also, always, a door you can be kicked out of. It takes courage to come to the end of ourselves and ask to borrow someone else’s strength for a while.  

 We are born with an absolute necessity for help, grow well only with a continuous succession of extended hands, and as adults depend upon others for our further successes and possibilities in life…Even the most solitary writer needs a reader…

For five years, I’ve been a solitary writer and you, dear reader, have been helping me all along, through the act of reading itself. Yet, this exchange has felt comfortable. I have not, for the most part, had to ask for your help. I’ve written. You’ve read. It has felt safely balanced to me.

But, finally, I have to leave that safety.

Until now, I’ve trusted my words to be carried wherever the gentle breeze of your enthusiasm might take them; now, I’m going to ask if you’d be willing to focus your wind. Specifically, I’m assembling a team of people who will, over the next two months, work with me to help me launch my new book, Loveable. In exchange for a free, early digital copy of Loveable, these folks will consider sharing the book through social media, leave an honest Amazon review on March 21, and consider buying a copy of the book during that week if they haven’t already done so.

In other words, I’m asking for your help, I’ll be in your debt, and I will have to trust that while I’ve been worthy as a giver of help, I will also be worthy as a receiver of help. So…

Will you join me on the Loveable Street Team?

If you are interested in joining, you can click here to sign up. Of course, if you aren’t interested, I’m still every bit as grateful for you. You are still worthy. You still belong here. And I still hope, together, we can help you live the redemptive story you are here to live.

Speaking of which, what do you need help with in your life right now? Who will you ask for help? Whose doorway will you walk through? What debt will you have the courage to create? Don’t wait. The asking doesn’t get any easier with delay; the need only grows larger. And remember: to be human is to be in need.

Life is a continuous succession of helping hands.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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P.S. Loveable is available for pre-order and, for a limited time, when you order it, you will get a free bonus—The Year of Listening, Loving, and Living—a second full-length book I’ve written as a practical companion to Loveable. You can click here to find out more.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Disclaimer: Kelly's writings represent a combination of his own personal opinions and his professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with him via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Kelly does not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accepts no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Sean Kelly

    The words of David Whyte hit home. It has taken me a long time, years, to pass through the door of vulnerability, to go outside my comfort zone, and to try to make my life a gift to others.

    • Sean, you might like the whole book. I link to it in the post. He has a remarkable ability to articulate the redemptive in even the darkest things.

  • JC

    I grew up being “that guy” that helped. I went to organized service projects, moved people, cleaned natural disaster messes, general good Samaritan efforts like a typical Christian might do. I was taught to help and I took my parents lessons to heart; be it a smile, folding a chair, or breaking a sweat, I was good for it. I even donated every month by way of tithes ever since I ever had an increase in money from my own wages. I never needed help, I was the person who helped. Then, a few years ago I got hurt. I couldn’t work for a couple months. At the time I was already underemployed and in debt and unemployment insurance might as well have been a check for 0$. Our ecclesiastical leader came by to discuss how we might need help paying for a few groceries to get by. I was embarrassed. I didn’t like the idea of using the tithes of faithful saints to fill my gut. I consented to the aide with reluctance for the sake of my children. We went to the storehouse to pick up what we needed. Kind volunteers took us to pick up what was on our list and after two full grocery carts got stuffed into our van and many tears wiped from my cheeks, I learned something about asking for help. If you cannot purposefully pick up and righteously throw that first stone, you are thus imperfect. If you are imperfect, you CANNOT by your lonesome return home to the Father that made us all and requires perfection to enter therein. There is only ONE who in perfection atoned for ALL to help us all have the ability to measure up to the necessary perfection and come home. I have to keep helping, just like I was taught, and I have to ask for help or the blessing of helping and being helped won’t take place and I hinder the very purpose of what makes life so precious. Matthew 25:45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

    • JC, the first time I can recall absolutely needing to ask for help was when I herniated a disc in my back in 2011. Suffering does have a remarkable way of returning us to our humanity, humility, and need for help.

  • Kathi

    Vulnerability is ALWAYS difficult…no matter what you tag yourself with. Human…that’s the common denominator and this characteristic is sometimes our weakest.

    • Yes, indeed, Kathi. Some have asked, “When does vulnerability get easier?” The answer: it doesn’t. When it ceases to be difficult, it is no longer vulnerability.

  • Joyce Slaughter

    Another issue I see people having with asking for help is that you have to then accept it in the form in which it comes. Something many people are loathe to do. Hence, they don’t ask.

    Thanks for the reminder to look in my own behavior and see where I have been blocking my vulnerability.

    • Joyce, you’ve picked up on an important nuance here. If we have any perfectionism in us (and I have plenty) we may hesitate to ask for help because people won’t “do it” to our standards. Great observation.

  • Karen Eisele

    My friends are standing at ready to help me with various and desperately needed home repairs but I give excuses and put them off. Recently I have had some set backs emotionally to the point that I wonder why I am bothering to stay alive at all- I know my friends would be there for me but I couldn’t bring myself to call. From early in life throughout most of my adulthood I have been taught and told that I am nothing, That I am incapable of doing anything or that anything I try will end up a disaster. You get the picture. What stops me from asking for help or accepting help is not a feeling of unworthiness but one of I can’t do anything for someone in return. I don’t know how to fix something, or paint, or cook well etc. But I do know how to listen and not accept the surface impression of someone I know is hurting but is this enough to allow myself to be helped by those who stand ready?

    • Cathy Bogen Kraft

      Karen, listening is one of the greatest gifts imaginable….one I don’t really have. Get your friends over, grab a loaf of bread, PB, and carrot sticks. Make a party….then volunteer at a school or nursing home where the young and old are aching to be seen…and HEARD!!

      • Amen, Cathy. Karen, if the one and only thing you did for the rest of your life was cultivate your gift for listening and leave a few people on this planet feeling as if they were really heard, then you, friend, have lived a truly beautiful life. The walls be damned. Let them peel.

  • Cathy Bogen Kraft

    I, too, struggle with the asking…not the giving. A few days ago I blew up at my husband…both barrels. Years of hurt and frustration. Initially I viewed it as finally having a voice…I am woman!!…..but as this week has progressed, and as I read this article, I realized it was really a cry for help, a scream to be seen. God bless him, he seems to have looked past the insulting, cruelness of my delivery and heard my exhaustion and my need. He’s been everything I could ask for in a partner this week! And yes, Kelly, I would love to pre read the book!

    • Cathy, for what it’s worth, when we first use our “voice” again after a long silence, it often sounds pretty rusty (read: angry). I’m glad your husband was able to see the heart behind the intensity. One of the great gifts of asking for help is finding out how many people are glad to give it and have, actually, just been waiting to be asked. Also, thanks for wanting to join the launch team! Let me know if you have any trouble signing up.

      • Cathy Bogen Kraft

        I think I signed up. Fingers crossed!!

        • Great! If for some reason you don’t get the welcome email, let me know!

  • Cris M

    I really liked this post Kelly! (and I love David Whyte, as you may already know :))
    One of the things I learned in these latest years of my life is that “help” has another face, that is “generosity”. When I realized I was being subject of the generosity of the others, who so kindly and with absolutely no need, extended a hand to me, held the door for me, listened to me, wrote a few lines that touched my heart, or just offered to do something on my behalf, I started to see “help” in a different way. And I started too to jump in for others in the same way (or perhaps “watching me” doing that), and it was very healing to see how the others and myself responded to that generosity, to that offer of help, creating then a safety field where to ask for help too. This is why that line of David Whyte is within my favourites, because it summarizes this “help/generosity thing” perfectly “Every transformation has at its heart the need to ask for the right kind of generosity”

    • Yes, yes, yes. Cris, this is a beautiful observation. Thank you for linking the two for us in a concrete way that Whyte does only abstractly. So helpful. Thank you again!

  • As usual, Kelly, I miss a few weeks of your blogs for whatever reason and then when I come back, it’s like you’re writing about my life. My husband lost his job two weeks ago, and then two days ago, our van bit the dust. It’s our only vehicle. We are racking up debts with friends that we can never repay, and they don’t expect us to. But it is hard and humbling and I keep wondering how much lower God is going to ask us to go. A couple from our church dropped off an application for the food bank yesterday. We aren’t quite that desperate yet but I keep wondering why it bothers me to ask for “that kind” of help. Good words, here. And, you know I’m in for the street team! Can’t wait to see your book in person!

    • Lisa, I’m afraid that means I’ve quit following your blog for a few weeks, too. I will tune back in. I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles. The good news is, in your faith community, your people don’t get to fully incarnate their beliefs until someone is in the kind of need you find yourself in. Their faith is finding its fullness in you, which means the gift is, in a way, quite mutual. I totally resonate, though, with how hard it would be to see it that way. I remember serving at a homeless shelter some years ago and seeing one man in particular who triggered this thought in my head: “He doesn’t belong here,” because he looked a lot like me. It’s hard to shake the idea that some people should be able to escape the full human experience and that we are one of those people. Lisa, may you live this part of your human experience as fully as you must and may your sense of belovedness grow in the process.

      • Hey, as a writer, I find that as much as I want to read the writing of my fellow writers, sometimes it’s hard when I’m in the creating process, too. No worries. We are friends whether we read each other’s blogs or not! Looking forward to the book. And thanks for these kind words.

    • p.s. Thank you for joining the Street Team! 🙂

  • Eoin Brennan

    I felt angry at first reading that. Things like, Thats bullshit dude, you couldve handled all of this by yourself if you had really tried, entered my head. But this is the thing, behind that anger I felt a bit sad because the truth is I dont ever ask for help. I always had to fend for myself when I was growing up, when I did reach out and ask for anything I was told to shut up and handle it myself. Pretty early on I learned to never ask and that became how I was. I know if I had grown up in a place where it was ok to give and receive help then things would be different. I dont know how to change though, its so deeply embedded in me to never ask for anything, to always handle it by myself, that I cant tell the difference between what I have a right to ask for and whats over burdening someone. I tend to air on the side of dont ask at all just to be sure. Like it makes me a better person or stronger than everyone else, like theyre weak for needing help. I dunno…………anyway thanks for the post, it triggered something in me and that in itself could be the start of something.

    • Eoin, thank you for this. Your vulnerability is a gift to all of us. Two thoughts: first, you overcome that first angry voice by observing it instead of mindlessly listening to it and believing it, just as you did today. Bravo, buddy. And the other thought is this: you don’t have to discern what is overburdening and what is not. You get to ask, and other people get to say no if it is too much. This is why I love having friends who say no. They are owning their responsibility for that in the relationship and relieving me of the guesswork that isn’t really mine to do. Now, having said that, it is far easier said than done!

  • I’d be honored and blessed to “help”. I believe I already ordered your book Dr. Kelly and know additionally I will be honored and blessed to read and write a review!

    • Thank you, Patti! I’ve appreciated so much the way you’ve encouraged me with your words and through the sharing of mine. I’m grateful for that kind of encouragement around Loveable too!

  • Kelly

    Asking for help is incredibly hard. Feels like sacrificing a piece of your dignity.

  • Victoria Laine

    Wow, was this timely! Yes, asking for help makes me feel vulnerable. I’m about to ask for help having found myself in THE most vulnerable place in my entire life. Can’t wait to read the book Kelly! Thanks so much for writing and sharing your wisdoms with the world.

    • Victoria, I hope, when you ask for help, regardless of how it turns out, you know that you are totally worthy of receiving it, and if at first you don’t succeed, ask ask again!

  • Susan Hawkins

    I really appreciated this post; it tugged on my heart. I hate that vulnerability of needing help, too. This resonated with me. I wish i could help with your book, but I am not on any social medias so that kind of defeats the purpose of your need. Thank you for offering me this opportunity. And thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences so honestly.

    • Susan, thank you for your kind words, and no worries regarding the launch team!

  • Renata

    It’s been ridiculously difficult for me to ask for help, particularly in one situation. I’ve been late to submit an undergrad thesis for months now. Not only my pride gets in the way, but I also have no idea how people can help.

    It’s my thesis; I feel like I’m supposed to know what to do. Even if I ask for help, I must lay the concrete steps of what other people can do for me, right? Honestly, I’m lost. I wish I could tell somebody that my progress is nowhere near wherever they’re picturing it.

    Several people have offered help. My coworker, best friend, even my own mother, who has been anything but judgmental to my lack of progress. I’m afraid to be honest about how little I’ve done for the past year. I don’t know if it’s right to ask them to help me thinking about a way out. To discuss my options.

    That’s it. Sorry, I’ve been all over the place. Pouring thoughts into text is not something I can do well…

    • Renata, I think you write quite well, actually. If I could take one of life’s most important secrets and insert it immediately into your heart so that you would believe it and act on it, I would do that. Here’s the secret: we’re all making it up as we go. The doctors and dentists and mechanics and pastors and teachers and everybody else. We’re all ad libbing and hoping for the best. The key to life is asking for help from people who have already done some of the ad libbing and learned along the way.

      • Renata

        Thank you. I wrote this without expecting you to read, let alone reply. I like that you go personal with your readers 🙂

        • You’re welcome, Renata. I like that my readers go personal with me. 🙂 This has become a really thoughtful community. I feel grateful.

  • Henry Akwarandu

    Another reason people don’t really go ahead to ask for help is that feeling of rejection; when they are refused help. It crushes their soul as well as lays bare their vulnerability. No one enjoys this feeling most especially when you were dealt this blow from someone you love and have developed trust for over the years. I am one of them. I’ve been at this point, and so has gone ahead to develop a very thick skin- I don’t ever ask for help from anyone. I’ve come to believe that what I can’t do for myself no one can really do for me. It makes me work hard and provide for myself and what I can’t really get, I see it as not the best time to come my way, that maybe, someday it will come.
    I’ve got a better perspective after your message and I believe with the help of God I will be directed to the right people and will ask at the right time. But my struggle with asking doesn’t affect my giving, so that’s why I ask if I could sign up and help from Nigeria in distributing your book.
    Thank you and may God bless you and your family always.