I am a somewhat independent individual who both likes and wants to take care of myself. I generally don’t want help doing what I plan on doing–my plans generally include a way of doing by myself what I could sometimes use help with. Now, I am not a complete independent–I do have a sense of my limits and am open to and even willing to seek help beyond those limits. But I am reluctant to seek help inside my limits–and not always really appreciative of help that is offered within those limits.
Years ago, we bought a new car. Because of the financial realities of that point in time, it was a stripped down economy model with no bells and whistles. It didn’t even have a radio, which was an expensive (at the time for us) option. We bought the model without the radio, but I had a plan that would allow us to save some money and install a cheaper radio with a tape deck sometime in the next year or so, depending on how many honoraria I got for weddings and funerals.
Shortly after getting the car, we had a visit from some friends. As the guy looked over the car, he noted the lack of a radio. I explained the choice and the plan for a radio. The next day, he showed up again, with a radio/tape player, speakers and antenna. While I thanked him and installed the radio and used both it and the tape deck regularly, inside I was not as thankful as I looked.
I didn’t need his help. I had a plan and I was content with the stripped down car until we completed the plan. You might accuse me of being ungrateful and too independent and too stubborn and all that–and it might be true. But at the same time, I think that incident did help me understand some of the dynamics associated with helping others a bit better.
As Christians, we are supposed to help others. We are even supposed to go out of our way to help others–the title of this post comes from a comment Jesus made about helping in 5.40-42: “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (NIV). I expect my friend with the radio would have referred to this verse or something similar if I had actually told him what I was feeling about his gift.
Going the second mile is great–unless of course the other person needs–or wants–to go the second mile themselves. It isn’t helping when the process takes away something from the person being helped or purportedly being helped. When an individual’s freedom and choice is taken away, there is no help. The process can be called many things at that point: meddling, over-functioning, controlling to name a few. It can also be coercive and even bullying. But it just isn’t help nor it is going the second mile as Jesus envisioned it.
The process of providing help is more complicated than many realize or what to realize. A decision to help out sometimes needs to be the end result on a process that involves a consideration of what is best for the individuals involved; what will help all people grow and develop; what will avoid creating dependency and resentment and what best shows the love of God to all involved.
As a pastor and a counsellor, I often find myself going the second mile, giving more than can be expected. But at other times, I actually refuse to go the first mile–and not just because my bad knees prevent it. I don’t give the help because the healthiest response on my part it to enable the individual to do what needs to be done themselves. Sometimes, my help is best offered in a way that enables the other person to grow and develop and do something for themselves.
I know that I am sometimes too independent for my own good. But if I am not allowed to do for myself what I can and need to do for myself, the help being given makes me less of what I can be, something that in the end seems to defeat the purpose of helping in the first place.
May the peace of God be with you.