This is the seventh blog in a series of ten by South Atlanta Community Facilitator, Dan Crain from a mini-book called, “Can you help me?
The Spiritual Formation of Asking for Help
I love helping people. I love giving to things that break my heart. I love giving advice to people. One problem in this equation is that I am only giving and not receiving. The ideal relationship that God designs for Christians is one that is built on giving and receiving from God and others. Dignity Serves http://dignityserves.org calls this dignified interdependence.
The term dignified interdependence is coined by Phil Hissom who wrote Dignity Serves finds it Biblical basis in Philippians 4:15, “not one churched shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.” In this context Paul is closing up his letter to the Philippian Church in which it’s evident all throughout the letter that he shared a special relationship with this church based on giving and receiving.
What is really interesting in this section of scripture is that as they gave and received with each other, God was at the center of their relationship and as their individual gifts, which were helping each other were like a “fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” This is the beauty of letting others help us is that their gifts are not for themselves, but to build up the community of God together and ultimately God gets the glory.
I believe that this is what Paul is also getting at in Galatians 5 when he lists out the fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These gifts can only be known in the context of community that gives and receives with each other.
Paul even ends Philippians by saying, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
The question becomes then, what is God’s medium as to how he meets needs? The answer of course is through others and this is why letting others help us with the gift that God gave them is so vitally important. This is why Bob Lupton says, “Doesn’t Jesus even say himself, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Then why am I always taking the more blessed position?” To not let others give to us is to rob them of something beautiful. To be able to help and give to others means that you have something to give that is beautiful and valuable.
So, if I don’t learn to ask for help from other people, whom am I really not asking for help from? Jesus himself.
But, living out dignified interdependence gets really tricky, particularly when we receive from the vulnerable. Whenever we see human need we automatically respond by wanting to do something for that need. But, if we choose to engage human need in a different kind of way something beautiful can happen.
On a regular basis I will go and visit a friend named Larry that is homeless in our parish. Whenever I ask him how he’s doing his response is, “I am grateful for today because I woke up.” To receive these words from Larry impacts me in deeply profound ways as I struggle with anxiety and worry. Larry has a perspective on life that I don’t as a man that is chronically homeless. He has a deep trust on Christ that I am learning about.
Richard Rohr says this about what he has learned from people living on the streets, “Perhaps I can presume that his homeless person is not formally educated in theology or psychotherapy; yet through the path of suffering, and maybe prayer, this person is in touch with both essence and edges and who knows who God is. The street person feels cold and rejected and has to go to a deeper place for warmth and truth.” People that live on the streets have literally lost everything, but yet they have found something greater than themselves and their situation.
For me the big question in sharing life with the most vulnerable is learning to answer the question, how have their perspective, gifts, voice and presence shaped me? To answer this briefly, it has given me a perspective that has deeply challenged my relationship with Christ as a white-middle class man that from the outside looks like he has it all together. The American culture is set up for people like me. It’s not that I haven’t had challenges, as I grew up without much money on a farm in Bumpville, it’s just that my narrative has been so different than many in my community. To see the obstacles that the vulnerable face everyday and their deep dependence on Christ to overcome those obstacles deeply impacts and stretches me.