I was out for a walk with the dog the other day. Nothing surprising there.
But as I walked I saw a young boy — about 9 years of age — carrying a box and a heavy bag to the dumpster outside his apartment complex. He was clearly struggling a little bit with it, shuffling along as he walked. So, as I came up on him, I said, “Would you like any help?” The young man said, “No, I got it.”
Then, as I kept walking, I could hear him continue his shuffle to the dumpster.
As I walked away I thought to myself, “Good for him…wanting to show he could do it.” Perhaps he was showing his parents that he could handle it. On the other hand, perhaps, not knowing me, he felt uncomfortable taking my help. Perhaps, as I had a dog on a leash, he felt like I wouldn’t be much help. Perhaps, he was “gameifying” his garbage duty to see if he could do it. Regardless of whether I could have been helpful, he didn’t want it. And so, he continued shuffling to the dumpster. And he was going to do it by himself.
I think this is an illustration of a larger issue. In our culture we have social issues with receiving help. Politically, “help” can be looked down upon as a “handout.” We have built into our system (perhaps through the concept of the Protestant work ethic) a “can do” attitude that values self-sufficiency. We want to show we can do it on our own and, I would argue, receiving help from others is seen as a weakness. It’s no surprise that “self-help” books have their own section on the shelves of our book stores.
And I’m not immune to it either. As I continued on my walk I wondered if I would have taken the help offered by a passerby, if I would have been stubborn as I struggled under my own burden, of whatever kind. And my guess is that I too, would say something like “no thanks, I got it.” And I wonder if that self-sufficiency is yet another barrier to true community among ourselves…that we’re not willing to take help from others. We don’t want to be seen as weak.
Now, of course, there is a theological point to all of this. Ours is a faith that is built upon the notion that we can’t do it ourselves. As hard as we (I) try to work to earn our salvation, we understand that Jesus, God’s Son, came to us to do for us that which we could not do ourselves.
Says Romans 5:6-11:
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
We were “utterly helpless” and God comes to us and offers help…offers salvation. Built into our faith is this understanding that we are persons in need of help. And our justification (“coming to Jesus”) is tied with our admitting that we need this help and receiving it. So we walk this earth and we relate with people serving as a counter cultural witness to our societally professed self-sufficiency. Christians are those who need help.
And, going back to the boy with the garbage, perhaps this means we keep offering help to those in need (for we remember that we, too, are in need) and when asked if we need help, we can receive it without an ounce of shame or guilt. There is no shame in receiving help. In fact, that’s where grace is.