This is my new favorite sound. For months, I’ve been working with Zoe on communication. First, she just cried indiscriminately while I scrambled to figure out what she wanted. Then she learned how to point to things that she wanted. Then, she learned to say some of the names of things she wants (“ball!” “cheese!”) with some sign language sprinkled in.
Despite all of these exciting developments, one skill eluded her: how to clearly and calmly communicate that she needs help.
I can figure out most of her needs, but sometimes, she wants to do something that isn’t obvious to me. Sometimes, she has dropped something that I can’t see, is having a problem I don’t understand, or has an idea that she wants to try out.
In those situations, she winds up going from “calm and collected” to “OVERCOME WITH RAGE AND FRUSTRATION” in seconds. As she screeches and throws things and flails, trying to communicate, I find myself frantically going through a list:
Is your appendix bursting?
Is your finger slammed into a door?
Are you about to go into cardiac arrest?
Oh, you just dropped your water. Cool. I’ll pick that up right away.
So, for the last two months, I’ve been working with her on “help please,” hoping it might empower her to ask for help without the rage and give me a few seconds to assess the situation and understand what she needs before the hysterics begin.
And this week…it clicked!
For the rest of the week, I’ve heard a lot of “hep pees,” along with approximately 50% less screaming than in any recent week.
The few times that she has reverted to screaming, I have reminded her to take a deep breath and say “help please.” She immediately does so with a big smile, knowing that I will come immediately to help her, happy to have a more productive way to deal with her problems.
Watching this all reminded me of my own journey into learning how to ask for help. And I’m about to get awkwardly personal, but I just feel like someone out there needs to hear this.
I’ve alluded to it here before, and will maybe spell it all out in detail at some point, but the first 19 years of my life were all about striving—striving to be good enough that I would deserve love, trying to deal with my problems myself so that I didn’t turn God off or bother Him (what?!! I know it’s crazy,) trying to cover up my problems and stuff them inside of myself, hoping they wouldn’t come out. They ate me up inside, leaked out anyway, and wow, it is so exhausting to even remember what this life felt like.
My world changed in a weekend.
One Friday in early 2006, my body shut down. I lay in bed for the next few days, barely able to eat or drink. I was exhausted and sick and just couldn’t do it anymore—the endless striving, the hiding of the problems, the trying to be everything to everyone. This was where it had landed me—in bed, sick on multiple levels, worn out at 19. And I said…help, please.
That weekend changed everything for me. In asking for help, I finally admitted: I can’t do life alone. I need God, and I need others.
“Help please” was the phrase that changed my life.
Anne Lamott says, “[help] is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”
And YES, it is freaking hard to have the humility to say I made a mess of things, I make a mess of things, I can’t save myself, and I need You.
But once you ask for help, you won’t go back to trying things alone ever again.
Because when you ask for help—when you utter a phrase as simple as “help please”—all of Heaven rejoices as He lifts the heavy burden of striving and and self-reliance and failure and isolation and pride and whatever else you carry off of you.
This is the beauty of the gospel: that we are invited to Him not in our independence, not in our competence, not in our self-reliance, not in our abilities, not as those who have figured it all out, but as those who desperately need a Savior.
We gasp out help please and find that our old efforts—the ones that never quite worked right, the ones that never really solved our problems—are no longer needed.
He is here, and we are no longer alone.