How to Ask for Help is one of those lessons I had to learn the hard way, and not just once either. I’ve learned it at least two dozen times so far, an average of about once every 6 months or so.
Here’s how the lesson went most recently: Baby Joseph wasn’t sleeping well. He never has slept great, and then there came a few nights in a row where he woke up every hour and a half all night long fussy and crying, and I emerged in the morning with all the emotional stability of a three-year-old and an all-consuming hopelessness that accompanies any situation you can’t dream or plan or work your way out of.
I am never going to sleep again, and I am going to be miserable and poor and lonely and alone for the rest of my life. This is what went on inside my head.
When you are well rested and well fed and have plenty of time in the day to take care of yourself and shower when you need to and put the laundry away when it’s dry, and you have the flexibility of time to see your friends regularly and pursue your intellectual interests and maybe even sometimes flirt and feel attractive, and you’re thoroughly connected to your community and you feel valued and appreciated for the work you do, then if you go a few nights with not much sleep, you’ll probably be okay.
But when you don’t have those things, or not nearly enough of them, or not for a long time, it begins to feel like walking on the edge of a cliff. The littlest thing comes up: maybe it’s a little root, or a rock on the path, or maybe I just get distracted and stumble over my own feet. If you’re close enough to the edge, that little stumble – like a night of bad sleep – sends you right over. And then only an act of divine intervention can bring you back to solid ground.
As a single parent, in the best of times I feel I am only feet away from that edge. So what do you do? You ask for help. Because you need it. But it’s hard! Oh, it’s so hard.
Before we get to the first reason we need to learn to ask for help, let me tell you about Rose. My friend Rose is one of those people that can make you feel safe and loved even from the depths of the worst of your self-pitying snot-nosed crying fits. She is wonderful.
Whenever I tell her about a bad day I’ve had, or a moment when I felt sad or hopeless, she always says Aw Lauren, why didn’t you call me? You should’ve called me. And I say, Gosh, Rose, I just don’t know.
Really, there are a lot of reasons why I (we) don’t ask for help:
One: I don’t know how – because we don’t learn how
Two: I am prideful- having to ask for help means we are weak or flawed.
Three: I don’t feel that I am worthy of help: why would someone help me?
Four: I forget that I can – when we are not in the practice of asking, we forget that it is even an option.
Five: I don’t want to be a burden – We are taught that if we ask for help, we make ourselves a burden to that person and not only do we owe them something in return, but we should feel ashamed for “putting them out.”
I could sit here all day adding to that list, but here’s what really happens when I am sad and I call Rose: She says Oh, sweetie do you want me to come over? And I say yes, and an hour later she shows up with chocolate Popsicles and two beers and we sit on the porch and she listens.
But the other thing that happens is the first reason we have to learn to ask for help. When I call Rose, I give her an opportunity to be appreciated and valued for this amazing talent she has. I give her an opportunity to feel trusted, and to feel the good feelings that come when you have something to give that’s needed by someone you love.
When we don’t ask for help, we withhold those opportunities.
Here’s the other beautiful thing that happens: When you ask for help, you admit that you need it, you admit that you are vulnerable, that you are fallible, that you do not always have it together.
The big secret is that you are not the only one. We all need help. We are all vulnerable, and fallible, and messy, and not always with it.
But when you admit this truth, then you make it okay for others to do the same. When you give someone a chance to help you, you not only give them a chance to feel valued and valuable, but you make it okay for them to ask for help down the line when – invariably – they’re gonna need it. And even more, you make it okay for them to be vulnerable, to be imperfect, to be messy and to need help. In admitting your own messiness and flaws, you create connection.
When you don’t ask from help, you deny others and yourself the opportunity to for connection that showing your vulnerability creates. By refusing to admit that we could use some help now and then, we send the message that we have our sh-t together while everybody else is flawed. We make other people feel shame for needing help while we do not.
You have probably had an experience like this. Mothers do it to each other all the time, as I have recently learned. A mother might smile sheepishly while feeding their child a prepackaged granola bar, perhaps offering an explanation that they had a crazy morning and this was all she could grab on the way out of the house. Another mother chimes in Well Inever feed my baby anything with sugar in it, it’s just so bad for their bodies.
And suddenly the gulf appears. Between those-who-are-perfect and those-who-are-not. If instead the other mother said Oh my gosh, you should have seen us the other day! We got to school and Sammy had two different shoes on! Then you’ve created connection. You’ve said, it’s okay, none of us have it all together all the time.
The third reason we have to learn to ask for help: It’s the only way to build a strong community. If we want to have a network of support that can sustain itself and that will be there for its members when we need it we have to begin to rely on such a network.
A community is not static. It is like a muscle or a foreign language, if its members do not rely on each other then the community loses the ability to support each other. Only by asking for help regularly and with ease, and responding lovingly when we are asked, can we learn what it is to rely on one another, and learn how to support each other.
It is hard to ask. There are hundreds of reasons why we really would just rather tough it out alone, make it look easy & tell the folks that things are just fine. But there are a hundred reasons more why we really must learn to be fluent in this act of asking. Here are a summary of my top three (I’d love to hear yours):
One: When you ask for help in the form of something that someone else can give, you show them how valuable they are and give them the opportunity to feel appreciated and worthy.
Two: Asking for help makes it okay for others to ask for help as well.
Three: Asking for help is the only way to create a community that is strong enough to truly support one another through real difficulty.
Asking for help is a generous act, a vulnerable act, a courageous act, and above all, it is a necessary act.