when christmas is hard: “help”
“o God, listen to my cry! hear my prayer! from the ends of the earth, i cry to you for help. when my heart is overwhelmed. lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge” – psalm 61:1-3, NLT
sometimes when i write about how hard life is here at the refuge, i wonder if i’m exaggerating. then i go through a week like this last one and remember how real it is. seriously, so many people struggling in different ways, some related to the season, some just related to life’s realities. no matter the reason, it’s rough around here. we have an advocates group that meets twice a month and is centered on support-skills-training-love for those who journey with others in hard places. it’s one of my favorite groups, a learning place, and every december our theme is the same: ”soul care & compassion fatigue.” we bring in our therapist friends to remind us of all the things we should be doing to take better care of ourselves so we can last. it’s always awesome. this past tuesday, my amazing and awesome friend phyllis mathis was with us and brought a mini wailing wall. she gave us time & space to just cry out in any way we needed on behalf of others-we-are-journeying-with and for ourselves, too (the one that we often neglect the most). i ripped up paper after paper, scrawling prayers on them for my friends, for me, and then stuffed them into the cracks of the rocks. “God, please help….”
then i lit candles. a bunch of them. i didn’t light one candle for each person because there weren’t enough, but i lit one for all my friends struggling with depression, another for a handful of women i know who are leaving abusive situations & trying to rebuild, another for those with health issues, another for ones with kids-on-the-fringe, another for those in the midst of divorce, and another for those who feel so far from God and long for some loving. and then i lit a candle for me, just for me.
with each candle i thought. help them, God.
help me, God.
goodness gracious, we really need your help.
if you’re like me, it’s hard to ask for help. i’m getting better at it, but it is so not my natural reflex. left on my own, i am a bootstraps-figure-it-out-on-my-own type of person. it’s part of my history and unfortunately, i have carried a lot of this into my relationship with God. it’s not that i don’t believe he’s present. part of my healing has been embracing God’s emmanuel-ness, regardless of what i do or don’t do. but i often don’t know what it means for him to actually help, at least in the ways i desperately want it.
but here’s what i keep learning--it helps to at least ask for help.
it humbles me because it makes me realize how much is out of my control anyway. it reminds me of my humanness. it also helps me feel less alone. it also helps me remember that even if nothing is changing, God is near, listening, present.
i finished anne lamott’s latest book last week–help, thanks, wow: the three essential prayers. it was so good, really lovely. here’s what she says about asking for help:
“there’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parent, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. this is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. it’s exhausting, crazy-making. help. help us walk through this. help us come through. it is the first great prayer.”
it reminds me of the first 3 steps in the 12 steps, which say 1. we admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors and life had become unmanageable. 2. came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. my paraphrased version of steps 1 through 3 have always been: 1. God, this is so not working. 2. maybe you can help. 3. and yeah, here it is (insert big hand motions of giving it over here).
i don’t know where each of you are at this week in the midst of a busy season. i’m guessing some of you are doing just fine, others are on the fringe teetering and yet others are seriously tanked. i also know that for some, asking for help isn’t hard to do, while for others it is a giant stretch–especially when God feels far or maybe hasn’t helped us in the way we have hoped.
asking for help is always a risk. it’s vulnerable. it’s scary.
but i’m pretty sure the alternatives are far worse. a hardened protected heart. or an overburdened weary one.
for this christmas-formation-friday, here’s a small thought to consider. if you are feeling burdened with all kinds of things, maybe take a risk and ask God for help. it might look like your own little wailing wall like the one we used or could be in some other form. it might be just a simple prayer over and over. help so and so…help me…. and then when you’re done, maybe light a candle somewhere nearby as a symbol of hope. keep it burning as long as you can.
i made some candles for my advocate friends for christmas this past tuesday. it was fun because i really thought about it before i made them. i wanted the words to be what this group of people might need, which is likely to be what i needed, too. these are what came to mind, a reminder that: ”i am loved. i am not alone. i am human. God is near.”
so today, i’ll light mine again and one for you, too.
you are loved. you are not alone. you are human. God is near.
please God, help.
peace and hope this weekend, kathy