I have a friend-mentor. We're friends who connect over the marvelous idiosyncrasies we share, but this friend is also a mentor who tells me those things about lawyering and being a new lawyer that you can't learn from law school or more experienced practitioners. I text him with some frequency asking questions about logistics and procedure, and each time I hit him with a, "I'm sorry to bother you with this question!" And he comes back each time with, "Of course no problem homey." After a few rounds of this, he once said, "If you think it is remotely possible for you to annoy me with a question, you vastly underestimate how much I value you and your friendship."
Oh yeah, I'm like tearing up just thinking about it right now. That's a good friend, y'all. But also, you see what's wrong with me, right? I don't know how I came to think of relationships as transactional.
This is my problem: I am a little bit allergic to asking people for help. And I recognize intellectually that this is a weakness of character: people need people, ain't no way around it, and it is a sign of poisonous pride to retreat from others into self-sufficiency. My parents have taught me that my whole life. So I don't know how exactly I came to be so squeamish about requesting time and attention from others. Maybe one day, if I ever get around to the therapy I probably need, I will be able to put my finger on where this flaw came from. But I have flickers of moments where my need forces me to be humble and I choose to feel gratitude over guilt.
For example, I cannot even say how good it felt when . . .
A friend offered to drive me to the train station and listened to me as I unburdened some baggage I didn't feel comfortable sharing with anyone else.
My roommate rubbed my back and put her coat over my shivering shoulders when I got violently ill from an allergic reaction.
My other roommate got ready for her day a few hours early so she could drive me to the airport before work.
None of these acts were solicited by me--I was given the gift of active consideration--but in being forced to accept such gifts I also experienced how it can be a good and touching thing to be dependent on others. It is my choice, to feel good to be shown and to accept care, rather than to feel guilt for inconveniencing another person. When I choose guilt over gratitude what I'm really saying is, "I don't trust that you care. I think you're selfish like I'm selfish. I don't need you because I'm doing okay trying to be perfect on my own over here." Such ugliness. Relationships are not a fair trade. There is no balancing of scales and keeping a ledger with the people you love. If your heart is soft toward others, you give help and accept help and ask for help freely, and all those things are connected.
I often struggle with the intersection between the power of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and make us to good, and our own personal responsibility to choose to do good. Where is God in those moments when I am too weak or lazy or ignorant to choose to do good? It was pointed out to me that I've neglected an important variable from my calculus: God commands us to community because we need other people to help us choose good and support us when we are weak. This requires a heart soft towards others.
I want a soft heart. I want to help other people. I want to grow in my sanctification. And paradoxically, it seems that also means seeking and accepting the help and care of those who freely love me.