The Paradox of Help

Reaching Out with a Helping Hand

Reaching Out with a Helping Hand

Back in 2006, shortly after I came into the Catholic Church, a friend and fellow parishioner shared an observation with me after Mass one morning which had a profound effect on me:  “Randy, I have noticed that you really enjoy helping people.  But, you are very uncomfortable when people try to help you.  By not allowing them the opportunity to help, you are denying them the very grace you are receiving from God when you help them.”  This fraternal correction from a man I respected stopped me in my tracks and the conversation has stayed with me over the years.

The reasons for my challenges in this area are manifold and complex, but years of growing self-awareness has helped me understand that I sometimes struggle to let people help me.  In the context of this post, “help” can range from something as basic as listening to someone venting to assisting a job seeker to prayer for a special intention.  I have been somewhat uncomfortable with people helping me since I was a teenager.  Reaching out (first) with an offer of help to people I encountered allowed me to maintain a protective barrier around my heart and keep people at a safe distance.  I genuinely find pleasure in helping people, but I have recognized over the years that I was also serving a subtle need to maintain invisible barriers between me and others.  I have often observed similar discomfort in others, especially men, with receiving help.  Why do we sometimes struggle in this area?  Conversations with people who I felt were similarly challenged and my own prayer and self-reflection have led me to the following potential causes:

  • Pride.  We may be stubbornly avoiding assistance from others because of the sin of pride.  “Do I need help?  No thanks.  I am doing great!”
  • Emotional Immaturity.  We may not be attuned to someone else’s desire to help us or understand their motivation.
  • Fear of Weakness.  We misinterpret accepting the generous help of another as a sign of weakness.
  • Fear of Exposure.  We don’t want to expose our flaws or problems to another and be seen as less than perfect.
  • “One Up Syndrome”.  For some of us, there may be a desire to have people in our debt and not the other way around.  This is wrong on many levels!  Help should always be given freely and accepted graciously…with no expectation of return from either side.
  • Lack of Self-awareness.  We may not know ourselves and our own challenges well enough to truly understand how to allow others to help us.

So far, the post has been pretty focused on why we may struggle to receive help from others.  The next logical question is this:  What are we denying others when we are not accepting of their help?  My friend back in 2006 pointed out that I was denying others the opportunity to receive God’s grace by my discomfort with receiving help.  People offering unsolicited help or hoping to return our kind assistance may simply be acting out of generosity and love.  Others may desire to help us out of a desire to restore poor self-esteem or overcome low self-confidence and see their offer of assistance to us as a way to feel “normal” again.  I often see this in people experiencing job transition.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but I encourage all of us to seek out friends, family or anyone we encounter who is struggling with some challenge and sincerely ask them for help.  I am sure we all have plenty of room for help in our lives!  Plus, don’t we all stand a little taller and straighter when someone asks us for assistance?  For many, this simple act of love and compassion from us may just make their day.

A lot of prayer, accountability from trusted friends and a sincere desire to change have helped me largely overcome my “help issues”, although I am still far from perfect.  I have learned to not only better accept assistance, but to seek it out from my extended network.  It is now more comfortable to ask for prayers for my family, support for my ministry work or ask for help in passing along the word about my latest book.  If you are reading this and feeling convicted, know there is a path to change if we are willing to be humble, take it to prayer and seek out input from the honest voices in our lives.


Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, Aquinas and More Catholic Goods and your local Catholic bookstore.

The Catholic Briefcase was voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.

Randy Hain’s exciting new book, Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith was  released by Liguori Publications in November, 2012 and is available in your local Catholic bookstores and on Amazon.   Along the Way was recently named a FINALIST in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards for Best Catholic Book of 2012.  Learn more here.  His third book, Something More: A Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life, was released on February 20th, 2013 and is available on Amazon.  Randy Hain’s books can also be purchased at www.liguori.org.

Looking for a Catholic Speaker?  Check out Randy’s speaker’s page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.


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7 Comments

  1. Randy this REALLY resonated with me. Thank you. And your list of reasons why we may be hesitant to accept help are spot on. This is such a universal issue. I suffer from, “I’m fine, thank you very much” syndrome. I’ve gotten better (by necessity!) but I still sometimes cringe when people offer to help. I’m in bed for weeks now with a herniated disc. A kind friend offered to bring meals or run errands for me. I said oh no no no I’m fine we’ve got it. I think for me growing up in a really big family I learned to do things myself and hated to “bother” my mom because she was always so busy! Sort of discounting my own needs in the process. I’ve come to realize hey I do need help! But still it is so so hard to accept it. Great insight today thank you.

  2. Thank you Randy. I have to think that our accepting help from others is a shadow of our challenge in accepting the helping hand of God in our lives. The challenge of receiving love, whether from God or man, is somehow etched into our humanness. Father help us. Opening ourselves to be loved intimately by God and others is so rewarding, so thank you for helping me ponder the resistance and hesitancy I have…so much good and so much of the advancement of God’s kingdom is riding on this single idea of receiving love.

  3. Regina and Bill,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. This is an ongoing challenge for me and so many others! I hope the post sheds a little light on the issue and ways to overcome it.

    God bless,

    Randy

  4. I would like to add another: I am so used to doing things by myself that I don’t even know what to say when someone asks if they can help. I get kind of in a multitasking groove. I would love to have help! But, I would love to be able to accept the help others offer (as rgulick said above.) Although, when my husband suddenly decides to help with day to day operations, I don’t know where to begin and I know my window of opportunity is small. I don’t live close to family and I am introverted so have a hard time knowing how to make friends. When others don’t accept my help I think I am the problem and they don’t want me around (lack of self confidence that has always been a fault). My babbling, and no, I am not looking for pity, of course, but just some other things that others may be thinking when they are denied the opportunity to help. Thank you for writing about this.

  5. Great post, Randy. As I read it, I was reminded of a time when all the great points you make, pride mostly, but all of them, seemed to vanish in uncharacteristic fashion. I also struggle with receiving help. But there was a particular time that I received help, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude, all those reasons to reject help hadn’t even come to mind.

    My wife had just undergone surgery and she was on bed-rest for a week. That left me to care for my wife, myself, my four young children. Oh the horror, right? Every day for the entire week, five of my brother knights and their wives took turns providing dinner for our family. They would come to our home every night with a box containing a feast fit for a king. It was an act of kindness that is so dear to my heart to this day, years later.

    What stood out the most was the example they set for my children. The example of Christian love and the joy they exuded in helping us was, in a special way, an eye opener for all of us. So for me, the act of denying others the Grace of God is the most salient point of all. Thank you for reminding me.

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