Excerpted from ‘From Burned Out to Beloved’ (InterVarsity Press)
From Burned Out to Beloved
By Bethany Dearborn Hiser
“What’s the worst that can happen if you’re dependent on others?” Lorie asked me during a recent spiritual direction meeting.
“I’ll feel weak,” I answered.
“So, what’s the worst that can happen if you’re weak?”
“Maybe I’ll be rejected.” Even as I said it, I knew in reality that while that fear felt true, it was far from the truth.
As humans, we’re wired to care for and to respond to each other’s genuine requests and needs. We’re made for connection, and connection requires interdependence. Our shame and pride can prevent us from asking for what we need and keep us stuck in isolation. One of the key components to resilience and recovery work is that we can’t do it by ourselves.
Jesus himself asked for help and received care. He built a team of friends around him, not just for ministry partners but for friendship and support. He allowed and even defended a woman who washed his feet with her hair. He asked to eat and to stay at people’s houses. He sat down at Jacob’s well while his disciples went and got food; then he broke societal barriers by asking a Samaritan woman for water. He asked his disciples to stay awake with him, not once but three times. He also expressed his disappointment that they had fallen asleep and weren’t there for him. He acknowledged and voiced his thirst. He recognized when he needed time alone and went off to the mountains to pray. Although fully God, Jesus was also fully human, with needs and desires.
Moses, who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, also demonstrated his need to receive help. In the midst of Moses providing the sole counsel and advice for the entire community’s interpersonal disputes, his father-in-law, Jethro, put his foot down. He told him, “What you are doing is not good. … You cannot do this alone.” (Exod. 18:17–18). Moses was wearing himself out by trying to handle all the people’s requests alone and “do good.”
EXPLORING OUR BARRIERS TO RECEIVING HELP
Before I experienced burnout, I believed I burdened others when I talked about my work experiences. I was so accustomed to listening to others, it was hard to share about myself and even harder to ask to be listened to. I didn’t have the energy to seek after my own support, even though I longed to be heard and known. Although I worked for a Christian ministry with 15 to 20 staff members, I hesitated to ask others to pray for me.
In the midst of this, I felt Jesus kindly say, “Bethany, who do you think you are that you don’t need other people? I’ve created you with needs and to be interdependent. Draw on those around you. It’s okay to ask for help.”
For those of us in the helping professions, it’s often easier to help others than to be helped. We may avoid support because it makes us feel vulnerable, needy, and dependent. Furthermore we may not feel safe, because we’ve experienced backlash when we’ve reached out.
Western culture perpetuates self-reliance and independence. Asking for help is perceived as weakness. We make a false distinction between helpers and those who are helped—and we prefer to be the former. Many of us long for community and connection yet fear vulnerability and weakness.
I wonder how this view affects those I work with, people who come in need and pain. Do I think of myself as better than them because I perceive myself as capable and strong? Do people somehow pick up on this?
When I view needing help as a sign of weakness, I perpetuate my messiah complex and disempower others. When I understand my own aversion to asking for and receiving help, I can be more empathetic and understanding of those I seek to help.
We need to begin by confessing our weakness.
FOR RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY
Just as Moses needed his father in-law to expose the change he needed to make, we need others to help us see what we are blind to, to ask us thoughtful questions, to challenge our addictive behavior, and to remind us that we have limits. We can’t do this work alone, nor can we move from surviving to thriving alone. Though I now know that I need spaces to share, it still isn’t easy for me.
I’m not used to being the one to talk. I’m more comfortable asking questions and hearing about others’ struggles than sharing my own. Each time I prepare to meet with my spiritual director, I get nervous. I don’t like being vulnerable or talking about myself. Yet after each meeting, I walk away profoundly impacted. It’s such a gift to be listened to and cared for. Prioritizing these meetings is part of my journey toward health and away from the false belief that I don’t need help.
As we invite people to support us, we’re inviting them into the dance of mutuality. We may actually be giving them a gift, empowering them to help and to provide for our needs. What if we normalized the flow of giving and receiving help, instead of judging giving as better?
When we ask for help, we’re reaching out for intimacy as much as anything. We’re acknowledging we have limitations; we are human. There’s wisdom in knowing our limits. When we acknowledge and embrace our need for love and connection, we’re freed to receive the gifts and help that others offer us.
Excerpted from From Burned Out to Beloved by Bethany Dearborn Hiser. Copyright © 2020 by Bethany Lynn Dearborn Hiser. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. IVPress.com