by Michaelyn Hein –
I lay prone on the couch, unable to sit up for fear of what I might cause to happen within my body. The doctor had given a clear warning.
“I cannot promise you will not lose this baby,” he said. “You need to stay on bed rest for the next few weeks, probably longer. You should only get up to use the restroom.”
Such a proclamation comes with a host of worries, the most obvious being the possibility that even sitting up straight could cause the premature death of one’s unborn baby. But, as is typical for me, the next concern wasn’t far behind.
How would I care for my other two children, the ones who were not nestled in my womb but who were under my feet all day long, needing meals and baths and play and love? At the time, I was not only 16 weeks pregnant, but also mother to my then two-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son.
As word spread of the near loss of my unborn child, offers of help came pouring in. A group of women offered meals. Friends offered my son rides to and from school. My mom and sister offered help tending the children while my husband worked.
Though I was, of course, grateful for every offer, I wanted so much to turn them all down and say, “Thanks, but that won’t be necessary.” Only, I couldn’t. I literally had no other option than to accept their assistance.
We do that as a people. We find ourselves at some points in our lives in desperation, and though we need assistance, we do not want to be a burden. And so, given the choice between humbly accepting aide or putting up a strong, independent front, we choose the latter.
We fool ourselves into believing that it is a kindness to decline the generosity of others. We refrain from ever asking for help in the first place, so as not to put people out. Had I the choice, I would have done exactly that when I found myself confined to a sofa with a husband and kids to care for. But with the decision made for me by my circumstances, I settled into my place on the couch and readied myself to detest feeling like a burden.
When the first meal came, its bearer, one of the women from my parish, was aglow as she placed a casserole dish in my refrigerator and gave my children a glimpse of the brownies she had lovingly baked from scratch. I had anticipated feeling frustrated that I could not take care of my household, but this woman’s face radiated a bustling, bubbly contentment at having been given the opportunity to serve.
Gazing at her, I realized something profound. Had I denied her request to make dinner for my family, I would have denied her this chance to do a charitable work, one that was seemingly necessary for the good of both our souls. While I had hitherto blindly believed it to be burdensome to accept help from others, I now saw that it was just the opposite. It was a gift.
To receive requires our humility. It necessitates surrender, a giving up of our own power and a giving in to our own weakness. And that is a hard quality to own.
Yet, our God did exactly that. He willingly chose – even necessitated – that He be entirely dependent upon the very creatures He created. God, pure Divinity, came to dwell with us in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. In doing so, He literally placed Himself in the hands of humanity and at the mercy of human beings.
But we resist such a lowly place. We insist we can take care of ourselves even when we clearly cannot, and in so doing, we steal from our neighbor the chance for us to be Christ to them and for them to be Christ to us.
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen explained, “Once you have surrendered yourself, you make yourself receptive. In receiving from God, you are perfected and completed.”
When we accept from others and allow them the ability to serve us, we indeed accept from God Himself through that person. Were we to look at receiving in such a way, who of us could ever shirk a position of such surrender? Could we knowingly push away the hand of God that extends to us through the hand of our neighbor?
Offers of help come to us every day. In the often-mundane repetition of our daily lives, we are given a choice then: to receive and bless others in our surrender to their assistance, or to deny both of us an opportunity for spiritual growth.
We are meant to live in community, which inevitably requires a give and take in relationship. Sadly, our modern society has devolved into one of less interdependence and greater independence. It has spiraled into one where babies, children and the elderly are seen as burdens. The lesson we have absorbed, then, is that to be dependent is to be a burden, and that is the last thing we want to be.
Being vulnerable and needy is to be human, and to be needed is a blessing. At least, it should be.
In this season of almsgiving, we are rightly concerned with what we can give. But sometimes our circumstances do not allow this. In such times, let us remember that by humbly accepting the generosity of another, we give a generous gift to both our souls: the gift of a step toward heaven.
Michaelyn Hein is a Catholic writer, wife and mother, who resides in Hopewell, New Jersey.