Like poor conscientious Martha in the anonymous epitaph above, most of us really would like to leave a legacy of kind and thoughtful deeds. Our community applauds us when we give up our own interests in favour of helping others, when we put ourselves last.
Except, as it often happens with good intentions, things go awry. This self-image of kindness and goodness, like all idols, needs constant upkeep and demands busyness. It craves feeding so that life cannot just be enjoyed in its own merit. Demands that you must be doing something to benefit society. It causes us to ignore our own very real needs, and can hide a growing resentment at unrecognized sacrifices.
Whether the others really required your help is in question, too. Preconceived notions of aid often don’t fit another person’s situation. Many times people just need encouragement to persevere in their own challenges. We forget that when we jump in too quickly to assist a child or those who have handicaps. We’re too impatient and insistent on perfection to allow them the necessary time.
One summer my daughter struggled to set up her tent. She finally called for help, which was promised in “just a minute.” In the cusp of that moment, in that recognition of need, she kept trying on her own. Sure enough, “I got it!” was the triumphant result. It doesn’t necessarily harm children to have parents too busy to immediately meet every difficulty.
Enabling addiction, either in an individual or a community, permits it to continue the downward spiral without experiencing the hard bump of real-life penalties. In those situations, true help would lie in allowing the inevitable consequences. It’s not kindness, and nothing is gained when we cling to the icon of our cherished self-image and perpetuate a learned helplessness in others.
In the Biblical story, Jonathan supported David and encouraged him to find his strength in God. There are times when it’s appropriate to extend and receive practical and short-term help. Ultimately, however, all of us need to acknowledge that our true source of help could only ever be our Creator. He sustains us because he knows exactly what we need. And he loves to see us grow in character, ability, and maturity.