A little help

As I was sitting on the sidelines of one of my sons’ soccer games recently, I heard a familiar question, “A little help?” It was part request, part heads-up. A ball had rolled from one of the nearby fields and was heading toward ours. The kicker wanted us to stop it from rolling onto the area where a game was being played, but also he wanted someone to toss it back to him.


A dad scooped up the ball and sent it back to the boy, and play continued on our field. Though the exchange was commonplace and unremarkable, I kept thinking about the phrase: a little help? It wasn’t formulated as an actual question, but it was a request for assistance.


I suppose the phrase stuck with me because I’ve been pondering how much help I’ve needed help lately myself. I started using a hearing aid a few weeks ago to help with the hearing loss in my left ear. I had told myself for a while that I could live with the constant buzzing and the muffled sounds on that side of my head. I’d just work around it and pivot my good ear toward what I wanted to hear, I told myself. It was just an annoyance. Eventually, with the encouragement of my husband, I saw a few medical professionals and now I can hear pretty well again.


It’s funny how many of us refuse to ask for help. It’s silly, really. I’ve been blessed many times to be on the giving side of the arrangement, so I know there are plenty of people ready and willing to step in and help, so why am I so reluctant to be on the receiving end?


Maybe it’s because we’re taught to be independent D.I.Y.-ers who just need to figure it out. Maybe it’s a control thing, and we don’t want to give the task to someone who’s going to botch and blunder his way through it when we could get it done so much better. Or maybe we’re afraid of what others will think. “Will they say I’m a bad ____ (mom, wife, daughter, employee, neighbor, Christian, etc.)?”


There are plenty of excuses not to ask for help, but there’s also countless reasons why our reluctance is complete foolishness. That’s why we have to ask ourselves the tough questions: Are my claims of independence and high standards actually plain arrogance? Is my worrying over what others will think superficial and, let’s face it, such a waste of time? Am I harming the people I’m in charge of caring for when I don’t seek assistance for myself?


Another important question I’ve had to ask myself is this: Does my refusal to ask for help from the people in my life translate to how I petition my Heavenly Father through prayer? In other words, if I don’t use the help memuscle with the loving humans around me, can I be expected to use it with my loving God? In Timothy Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he says that “Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.” I sure could use more of God’s presence, and prayer is the door to enter into it.


So, in case no one has told you this today, it’s okay to ask for help. Actually, it’s not just okay, it’s a holy command. We read over and over in Scripture, that we should cry out. And Isaiah 30 gives us an example of God’s willingness to help: “So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help…He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.” Take that first step to get the help you need.

Weed tree lumberjack

For the most part, my husband and I were raised as city people. A half-acre lot was plenty for our folks. They had their vegetable gardens and rosebushes. Brent’s dad even had some fruit trees. But our homes were situated in suburban neighborhoods (in Nashville and Knoxville, respectively) with weekly garbage pickup and streetlights and city buses and access to nearby interstates, not out in the country.


Now we still live in a city surrounded by neighborhoods, but we have a little bit of land—almost 5 acres—and sometimes our citified upbringing surfaces. We accidentally neglect parts of our property, and then a Saturday free of obligations rolls around and we spend all day catching up. Mowing and weed-eating, digging up unwanted plants and trimming back hedges. We get to work, sweating and toiling like we’re preparing for the arrival of royalty to our humble village.


Last Saturday, I decided to tackle the forest of weed trees growing unchecked below a line of tall pines along our driveway. I used everything in our gardening tool arsenal: long-handled loppers, an electric hedge trimmer, a chainsaw, and a small hatchet. Many of those weeds I drive past every day had grown taller than me. Some of their trunks were thick, as much as 6-inches in diameter. How did this uninvited grove grow right under my nose?


I suppose I was looking elsewhere, my mind wandering, sussing out both the important and unimportant, and the weeds just became the expected backdrop. They were green, so I didn’t look too closely. If I had, I would’ve seen thorns and ivy snaking around the trunks of the pine trees. I wasn’t heeding the Scriptures which remind me to be watchful. “Dressed and ready with my lamps trimmed and burning,” as Jesus told his followers. “Ready to answer when the master knocks on the door.” I was caught off-guard by what can develop when I’m not vigilant.


But it’s not always just our negligence or laziness, those weed trees suddenly towering over us. Sometimes we actually invite the invasive and insidious. Take kudzu, the widespread vine from Asia, for example. It was introduced to the U.S. at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia as an ornamental plant which could be handy for shading front porches. It was eventually seeded all over the country to combat soil erosion in the face of the Depression-era dust storms. The government actually paid farmers to plant it.


At first, it seemed like a good idea and who could blame them? It grew quickly, could be fed to livestock, and smelled like grape bubblegum. But now we see what happens when kudzu goes unchecked. Without cattle to graze on it and keep the vine controlled, it chokes out the nearby native plants. We see it cascading by highways, mountains of green originally planted there to fill in the gashes made by road crews. There seems to be no stopping it. (Although the Japanese kudzu bug, which somehow traveled to a garden near the airport in Atlanta, according to a fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine, is working hard to suck the juices from the vine and may reduce the spread of the invasive plant.)


Nature is a reminder of God’s creativity and majesty and power, but it can also be a metaphor to apply to our day-to-day lives. Even the weeds can teach us. As I hacked away at those vile weed trees on Saturday, I pledged that I would do better at keeping them in check. I made promises to my Lord and myself that I would be vigilant, both in my landscaping and my life.