The more helpful among us want to save the world; we want to lend a hand to those who we perceive as suffering. Sending gift boxes filled with toiletries and pencils to far-off countries; serving meals in a soup kitchen; volunteering to walk dogs and clean out quarters at the animal shelter. We want to share our gifts, aid someone who needs help. We want to do something.
Helping makes everybody feel good, especially when it’s recognized and gratefully accepted.
Certain people are easy to help: their needs are simple and simply met. Comfort, peace, worldly things that allow them to live in ease, even if just for a short time – we know what they need. Sometimes they tell us, and often, a helper and one who is helped are matched up, making the process smoother for everyone.
But what if a need is not so easily named? What about people who hide their needs, or don’t present themselves to receive? What if they don’t cry out for help?
We don’t have to be mind-readers to know when people are suffering. If we know them well, we know their stories. We read the pain on their faces. We ask them what we can do and they say ‘nothing’ – they think they are too far gone. Worse, they get angry with us when we suggest what we can do for them. Leave me alone, they say. You can’t do anything. Just forget about it. I need to handle it by myself.
The brush-off hurts. It’s alarming. We can’t forget about it. What else can we do? How can we help?
In a busy culture, it’s hard to be idle when we can clearly see what needs to be done. The trouble is, what we think and what is required are not always the same.
Sometimes the hardest work is to step away from suffering and admit that tangible efforts to help aren’t helpful.
We can force ourselves into situations where our presence gets in the way of a person’s healing, or we can finally understand that we are not helping at all. What we need to realize is that God uses us for his work. When we feel we have used up our store of helpfulness, God is there to provide.
Sometimes, all we can do is pray. We lift up the needy to him, and ask him for help on their behalf. We present ourselves to God as helper, and he shows us what else we can do. It might be as subtle as love and awareness. We might not be able to help using our own strength, but when we draw close to God, he may reveal what others need. Our helpfulness becomes God-led. Imagine how much more we can do with his power working through us every single time. Even if it’s just praying.
Our role in others’ lives is to be available to God so that he can tell us what to do. In this way, our help is from him. Then we can be sure our efforts are helping.
In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:16