IVP - Strangely Dim - The Risk of Asking

January 29, 2007

The Risk of Asking

Here's something you should know about me: I hate to ask for help. There are certain instances I've deemed worthy. One is stopping to ask for directions. I've gotten so lost a few times since moving out here that I have no qualms about asking for directional help. My sister is my first choice; she's my personal GPS: always gracious, never says "How did you get THERE?" and has never failed to lead me safely out of wherever I've gotten myself into. If she's not available, gas-station and convenience-store clerks will do.

I'll also ask for help if it will save me significant time, such as when I'm shopping. You don't want to tell people you spent your entire Saturday afternoon wandering around the grocery store looking for wheat wraps because you wouldn't ask a store clerk where to find them.

But in most other situations in my life, I have a very hard time asking for help. I'd rather take the task on myself than involve other people who already have enough going on in their own lives. Or sometimes I'm not sure who to ask to find the answer I need.

I know the main reason I don't ask for help, though: I'd have to admit that I don't know the answer, that I'm so clueless about a situation I can't even begin to sort out my options, that I'm ignorant or naive or incapable or weak. I can't get around two details that asking for help always involves: first, I have to name and face my limits. I know I have limits, of course. I accept my limits in many areas (such as in swimming); there are hundreds of skills and tons of information I don't need. But asking means I recognize both my limit and my need in that area. And then comes the second detail asking always involves: recognizing another person's strength or power in my area of weakness and need. That's when things get risky.

But asking, I'm realizing, is powerful. I recently studied Matthew 8 and 9; they're full of people whose lives were changed by Jesus because they dared to ask him for help. And for most of them, asking took immense courage. Take the leper in chapter 8. He had to walk through a crowd of people who'd been taught since birth to scorn and reject him. He couldn't hide his disease, his neediness. And he likely had never met Jesus before, so he couldn't have been sure what sort of answer he'd receive. But he asked anyway, and found a compassionate Savior who was eager to help.

Admitting my own limits and neediness, my dependence on God and others, is the way it's supposed to be; it's how God created us. I know that in my mind and can see the practical value of it lived out. But my individualistic, be-independent, American self tries to fight it, and often wins. I'm amazed when I read David's psalms how natural and deep his dependence on God was; in many ways he was such a strong person (brave warrior, powerful ruler), yet in his psalms he freely and frequently admits--without shame--his utter helplessness and fear, his complete dependence on God. He accepted that that's how it's supposed to be.

Jesus reminds us of this in Luke 11: "Ask and it will be given to you. . . . For everyone who asks receives. . . . Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Asking and receiving are a natural rhythm of any healthy relationship. Especially in our relationship with God, who loves to give help.

And really, figuring things out on my own isn't all that much fun. Easier? Sometimes. Less complicated? Sometimes. Less humbling? Sometimes. But it's often lonely. It keeps others from opportunities to use their areas of strength. And the sense of accomplishment that might come when I do something myself can't ultimately be as satisfying as the connections nurtured when I do something with others. Because at the core of who we are is a need for relationships.

But asking is still hard. When I do take the risk, I often feel the same way I imagine the leper felt: unsure of what reaction I'll receive (scorn? ridicule?) and acutely aware of my need. Usually, though, I receive what he did: compassion, and the help that I need.

So why am I so afraid to admit how much I need others, afraid to accept that as part of what it means to be human, afraid to accept my own limits? And how do I get past my fear? Just asking. I suspect that's the only way I'll find the answer.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at January 29, 2007 4:03 PM Bookmark and Share


Hey Lisa,
This is so true and probably something with which most of us struggle! I know I do! I also will spend countless minutes looking for something when I should just ask and save a whole lot of time! And you're right! It doesn't give others the opportunity to help and use their strengths! I have a friend who put it this way: You're robbing others of being a blessing to you! Hmmm....interesting way to put it, huh? I was quite convicted! Anyway,thanks for this good reminder! In Him, Danielle

Comment by: Danielle at January 30, 2007 7:31 PM

Great post, Lisa. It makes me think the importance of 1 Cor 12 ecclesiology of one body with many parts. We all need to ask others about some things, and others need to ask us about other things. That interdependence, especially when lived out in a community context, goes a long way in removing the fear or embarrassment of asking others for help.

Comment by: Al Hsu at January 31, 2007 8:32 AM

I can relate! It's comical, my unwillingness to ask for help. Last week, I had abdominal surgery. Today was my first trip out of the house, to buy groceries. And when the strong-looking young man asks, "Can I help you to the car?" what do I say? "No thanks." Of course not. I wouldn't want to trouble him. Even though it's his job. And I do need help...

Comment by: Robyn at January 31, 2007 3:53 PM

Like they said. GREAT post. It feels familiar. I hate asking for help. Mostly it means I need something, and I would like to be self-sufficient at all times. Thanks for the thoughts.

Robyn--I had a similar experience; this morning while I was taking the trash out at my place of employment, a customer asked if he could get the door for me. "No thanks," I said. "I'm pretty good at just kicking it."

Just kicking it?

Comment by: Jenn at February 1, 2007 4:57 PM

thank you, friend. trying to find new ways to embrace my own limits...to invite others in...especially the One who has decided our boundaries.

Comment by: erica at February 2, 2007 12:16 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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