I got to listen to someone tell a story the other day — a story about a childhood event. She had climbed up a ladder onto the roof of the house. She cannot remember if she had been tasked to clean the gutters, or what the purpose of this lofty trip was. She does recall finding herself stuck up on the roof, and not sure how to get down. Her sister, who had made it to the ground safely, went indoors to ask their parents for help, but received the gruff reply, “She’d better find her way down.” The child was ten or eleven.
So often it feels like we are left in life to find our own way, to rely on ourselves, to pick ourselves up when we are down, and carry the momentum forward when things are going well. For most of my life it seems the message bombarding me is that the only person I can trust is myself. “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” It is augmented by relentless media telling us to put ourselves first, after all, “you’re worth it,” says the advertisement.
The damage, though, has been great to society and the world. We have increasingly become individualistic, looking out for our own interests even when doing so has a negative impact on others. Much of the time it feels like we are doing lip-service to the things we are called to do as followers of Jesus: caring for those who are unable to care for themselves; advocating for those whose voices are silenced; calling for justice in a society that continues to bless those who already have much; befriending those who are lonely, abandoned, isolated. The lip-service makes us feel like we are doing something, and that is enough.
So when we come across someone who needs help, someone who simply can’t do it on their own, we tell them they need to find their own way. They need to help themselves. After all, we didn’t get to where we are ourselves by relying on everyone to do things for us, did we?
Or did we? My sister was stuck on the roof of the house, unable to work out how to get onto the ladder so she could make her way down. She turned to our parents for help and was told to work it out for herself. She remembers that I stood on the ground and helped her find the ladder, and then to trust herself to turn around and step onto it. As she told the story, she spoke of learning that help was there when she needed it, she just had to change where she was looking for that help.
“Unprecedented times,” we are constantly being told right now. I’m not going to argue the terminology right now, but I will argue that the help we need is with us in these times. Although we may have to change where we look for it. I can already hear a number of people calling out that we look for our help in God. Something we are reminded about in the Psalms: “I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). I am certainly not going to deny that, it is something I believe very strongly. What I have learned though, is that God helps us through the people around us who reach out to us, supporting, encouraging, guiding, teaching us. And, God offers help to others through how we reach out to support, encourage, guide and teach.
I’d love for there to be a twist to this bombarding “unprecedented times” message: a twist that no longer speaks of unprecedented disruption, unprecedented restrictions and unprecedented hardships, rather it speaks to unprecedented community, unprecedented acceptance, unprecedented generosity, unprecedented grace, unprecedented love. I can imagine God is smiling at the thought and loving us into action. God is constantly reminding us that we are not on our own and is also constantly reminding us that we are the reason that others are not on their own.
I hope there is always someone around to guide you when you’re stuck on the roof searching for the safe way down. Or whatever other help it is that you need. And I hope that you will find the strength and courage to be that help for someone else. For there we will see God at work in “unprecedented” ways!
Blessings and peace,