Five weeks ago I slipped and fell on the ice on my way home from the gym, fracturing my arm bone straight across the top, right at the shoulder. Your shoulder is connected to your chest, back and neck—a central point that controls the whole upper body—so for weeks, I couldn’t open the cereal box or a bottle of water or the very-necessary Tylenol. My fiancé, Peter, had to do just about everything for me: He was getting some of the “in sickness” parts of our wedding vows a bit sooner than he’d expected.
In the mornings, he’d come over to help me get my day started. At night, he’d cut my dinner up into bite-sized pieces. Mostly, he forced me to slow down by renting a lot of DVDs and not letting me budge from the bed unless it was totally necessary.
Still, there was a lot going on. I was hosting a baby shower for one of my best friends at my house. I had job interviews and travel plans. And none of it was going to happen unless I asked for a lot of help.
Asking for help is humbling. It means admitting that you aren’t perfect, that you aren’t always strong. But asking for help is the only way we can make it through this life, and most of us have so many hands extended to us.
Asking for help—and learning to accept it as a gift—may be one of the biggest challenges in a relationship with a significant other, spouse and even with God.
1) You’ve got to ask. Do you have a proud little voice in your head saying to do it yourself, because, frankly, you do everything better anyway? Silence it. Or maybe your fear is that you’re asking too much of your spouse or friend? They are usually happy to help. Or perhaps that you’ll “owe” them something if you ask for assistance? Keeping score isn’t healthy. In a loving relationship, it’s OK to ask for help. Just say “please.”
2) Relax. Other people don’t pack the car up precisely the way you do, or keep to the same schedule, but if you are asking for help, you should respect the way they get things done. Peter had to do all the cooking and the cleaning while I was recovering. Mostly that meant ordering in food (not something I usually do, but quite tasty!) and pots and dishes ended up in unusual spots in the kitchen. But you know what? The world didn’t end. It made me anxious to not have things precisely my way, but I had to learn to relax. I had asked for help and he was doing a wonderful job-his way.
3) Empower by thanks. Be overly grateful. In our case, I was asking Peter to do “girly” things that he didn’t know how to do. (You’d be amazed how hard it is to put someone’s hair back in a ponytail if you’ve never done it before). When you ask for help, don’t make your helper feel inadequate in his or her efforts. Choose tasks that are going to play to their strengths and then be thankful. Say it out loud each time.
4) Delegate-and move on. Would you prefer to be in charge of a project or to be constantly given small tasks and monitored? Most people like to be in charge. I’ve had to ask Peter for repeated help—open this bottle, please, pass me a pillow, please—but the best help he’s given me is when I’ve asked him to do me a big favor, told him what I needed and why, and then let him do it as he chose. Consider the things you might need help with: Are there big chores, or whole sections of jobs that you could ask someone else to do, so that you can focus your energy elsewhere? Ask, and then assume it will be done. Don’t hover and supervise.
5) Pray. Breaking my shoulder hurt a lot. I couldn’t type and writing in my journal (my primary form of prayer) was challenging, too. When I was feeling quite low and sorry for myself, I thought of writer Ann Lamott’s advice on prayer. Sometimes, she said, it seems just too hard to pray. You don’t have the words. You don’t know what to say. In those times, she utters a simple prayer: “Please please please, help help help.” In its simplicity, it strikes me as one of the most beautiful prayers we could ever utter.
While asking for help is difficult, some of our most desperate moments are when we feel totally alone, with no one to listen or help us. In those dark moments, it may seem as if prayer isn’t even offering the solace we seek. But there is always help to be found if we have the courage to ask for it.
Think about where you need help in your life-from your loved ones and from God. No matter how old we are, every relationship could use a refresher course in “please” and “thank you.”
Do you feel comfortable asking for help in relationships? Email me and tell me what you think at email@example.com. And for those of you who have emailed me during the past five weeks, I’m sorry I haven’t responded: Typing is difficult with a busted shoulder, but I’ll be back in action soon. Thanks for your patience and keep those emails coming!