I seem to be stuck on the issue of helping this week. That is probably because I am a helper and a helper to helpers. It is also probably partly because I have seen and experienced some very poor examples of helping in my life. As a pastor, I spend more time than most involved in the painful situations of life and have therefore had ample opportunity to see the best and the worst of helping and helpers.
I am also in a position to hear many comments about helpers from the people on the receiving end of the help–and the truth is that many helpers aren’t really very helpful. In fact, they are often a cause of problem and difficulty for the people dealing with whatever they are dealing with.
I remember officiating at a wedding one time. I was asked to do the wedding because the couple had family connections with people in the church I was pastoring at the time. The couple didn’t have a church connection of any kind and by default, I was asked to do the wedding. The family members were excited about the wedding, pleased that it was to be in the sanctuary they worshipped in on occasion and thrilled to be actively involved in the planning of the event.
At the end of the service, I breathed a sigh of relief and was secretly praying that there would not be another wedding in that family, at least until after I was called to another church far enough away that I would not be the default option for the service. The problem wasn’t the couple–they were easy to work with and we developed a good relationship. However, the family members in the church were significantly over-functioning in the process.
It was hard to schedule pre-marital sessions with the couple because the family members felt they should be involved–they has insights and ideas that would be helpful in the process. The rehearsal was somewhat difficult with the family members telling everyone who was to be where, when they were to be there and what they were to do. Given the fact that they didn’t always know what they were talking about, that created some tension, as did the fact that I often specifically asked the prospective bride and groom about their preference, bypassing the family members.
At the wedding itself, I realized just how frustrating the help was when the family members tried to take over the signing process, grabbing for the various papers that needed to be signed before I could systematically point out to each signer what they were to sign. After the ceremony and reception were over, the family members were so excited about how much they had been able to help in the process.
As for the couple–well, they were less impressed with the help and thanked me for dealing with the “help” and for giving them some control of their own process. Me–well, I was glad the thing was over and that no wars broke out over the help being provided. I also decided that I would definitely not be recommending them as wedding planners, at least not for weddings I was involved in.
I also realized again that we all need to think more carefully about how–and why–we are helping people. The help we think we are providing may well be something we are doing to meet our own personal internal needs, needs that we may not understand or perceive. But in meeting that need, we end up walking all over other people and in the process, complicating whatever process we think we are helping.
To really help people, we need to understand our motives and internal emotional drivers. We are helpers for a variety of reasons, some of which are due to our own internal needs. But we need to keep those needs in balance–when our needs become more important in the helping process, we have actually stopped helping and likely become a hindrance in whatever is going on.
Helpers are a vital part of life–all of us need help at some point. But good helpers have learned how to respect the freedom of those being helped following the pattern set before us by God, who offers us all the help we need but respects our right to accept or reject the help.
May the peace of God be with you.