Creativity for the Rest of Us

Asking for Help



Why is it so hard to ask for help? When it’s offered many of us have a reflexive response to decline outright. Some of it stems from being raised in a culture of fierce independence, keeping up appearances, protecting our feelings, and unhealthy pride.

We’ve inherited a litany of old beliefs along the way to justify not asking for help:

  • we’ll look needy, weak or incapable
  • we’ll owe them something in return
  • we’ll feel like a failure
  • we’ll look stupid
  • we might be disappointed
  • they won’t do it right
  • it’s easier, quicker, more reliable to do it myself
  • they might say no

In short, it makes us feel vulnerable.

The cancer journey was the most vulnerable I have ever felt in my life. And it taught me a great gift in how to ask for – and receive – help.

When I began to share with friends about my diagnosis, the response was universal. Let me know what you need. How can I help? What can I do? At that early stage and still in shock, I had no idea what was in store or what I would need. I thanked them and promised to let them know.

I lied. I didn’t really have any intention of asking for help. It all felt way too scary and vulnerable to let others in very far at that point.

Something started to shift as the news spread. I began to sense this wasn’t about me. People cared. They were concerned. Action was how they dealt with fear and uncertainty. Being able to serve relieved some of the anxiety.

I was diagnosed in early March, the time of year when we typically spend weekends cleaning up the garden from winter hibernation and preparing for spring/summer. With all the commotion of finishing work projects and clearing the decks for treatment, this annual ritual had completely fallen off the radar and things were looking scraggly out back.

The garden is a healing sanctuary for me. My intention was to spend as much recovery time there as I was physically capable of. I also knew that while I was healing, I didn’t want my attention drawn to all the projects that needed tending to.

So the week before I started treatment I invited friends and family to a garden clean up day. It felt like a bold request, bordering on selfish. People had offered rides, food, and body-work. I was apprehensive about whether anyone would come wondering if I had overstepped the bounds of friendship by asking them to do yard work. This was a huge stretch for me in asking. Yet my inner voice said this was what to ask for.

I was astounded when 25 people showed up with tools, gloves, and great enthusiasm. It had the flavor of what I imagine a barn raising would be. People got to know each other while stripping ivy off the fence and weeding veggie beds. Caught up with old friends while sweeping up pine needles. My family prepared a lovely lunch and we picnicked on the lawn. Together, we celebrated – life, the reliable return of spring, community, and health in all its forms.

I learned that asking is an exercise in abundance. It’s good for me and for my community. Human beings want to contribute and it’s an act of scarcity to deny that opportunity. I also learned there are many, many ways to be of service and that we all deal with uncertainty in our own way. Whatever our contribution, it’s important to offer it.

Most of all, I learned that asking helps me feel a sense of belonging and collaboration. I am part of a community that’s so much bigger than me and not about me. This time it was my turn and next time it will be someone else’s.

Ask and receive. It’s the natural flow of life. Keep it moving.


2 Responses to “Asking for Help”

  1. Karl Staib says:

    I love the idea of a family garden day. I think once a month would be fun to just go to a different friends house and help them clean, garden, cook, whatever as a way to give back.

    Great idea. Now it’s time to ask or just give without being asked. 🙂

  2. Colleen King Ney says:

    This so moved me.
    A beautiful example of how our fears about receiving and giving
    Do not take away from us ,rather the gifts of each
    exponentially soar in our hearts, and there is never one
    Without the other . Thank you Mary … The thought ot of you and your family
    Joining together for lunch in your renewed garden ,
    Well let’s say, ….. I could feel the love !

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