I don’t like asking for help.
In fact, I hate it.
I was trained early on to be the helper, not the helped, and any change in that order of things feels seismic.
So the past few years have been my own private Haiti. A personal quake that flattened what rose high, and shattered foundations – with aftershocks too numerous to count.
I have had to ask for the figurative analogues of emergency relief: shelter, sustenance, healing, hope.
I’ll tell you right now, asking hurts.
It can make you feel exposed – raw and tender as if you’ve spent too much time in a strong sun that scorches rather than warms. Or conversely, it can leave you frostbitten and lost in a blizzard, miles from home.
Because asking presumes an answer, right?
Sometimes petitions turn to lamentation in the long silence that follows them:
Why do you stand aside,
Why hide from us now the times are hard?
I asked a priest friend something akin to the psalmist’s question a few days ago. Not so beautifully put, of course, and probably even more despairing.
Sometimes, he said to me, it is the asking that matters. Putting a name to your need.
I’m kind of arrogant, I answered, ready to finish the sentence with something along the lines of not usually feeling like I need help and so not being at ease with it. You know – a spoken equivalent to the beginning of this blog post.
But as soon as the word arrogant came out of my mouth, he agreed without my having to finish the sentence.
I’m sure the look of shock on my face must have felt like a reprieve after my interminable sniffling and sniveling.
And then I had to laugh. This is one of the reasons he is my friend. I am deeply suspicious of pietistic bromides – religious or secular – but give it to me straight and I’ll sit up and pay attention.
This is the only part of our conversation you are going to remember, isn’t it? he asked a little sadly later, after I had referenced the arrogant comment several times.
But it isn’t.
We aren’t meant to carry our crosses alone. And sometimes God sends us straight to the people who’ll help us shoulder them for the crucial bit. Sometimes God even sends us to someone with a sense of humor.
It may not be the answer we imagined when we asked for help, but turns out to be just right.
On your way out, take four red M&Ms. For your arrogance, my priest friend said. Smiling.
I kept them lined up on my desk for the rest of the day. Every time I caught sight of them I was reminded of how no one gets through the journey without help. We all have to learn to ask, no matter how vulnerable it makes us feel or how the heaviness of the need drives us to our knees in anguish rather than praise.
We learn to ask even when we think God’s not listening.
Four M&Ms, four little red dots -- like blood shed.
My priest friend is very canny. It is Lent, a time of preparation. A time leading, our faith tells us, to an answer to all the petitions, an answer to all the pleas that have turned to lamentation. It doesn’t happen bloodlessly. It doesn’t happen easily. It is a bitter via crucis that leads at long last to a day in which we get to taste the sweet.
Today I placed four red M&Ms on my desk. Tomorrow I will do the same, and every day through the end of Lent.
I look forward to the promise of sweetness.
I look forward in faith.
I look forward.