by Randy Kosloski
Have you ever had the experience of wandering around aimlessly in a car with no idea of where you are going, because the driver—perhaps you—has no motivation to ask for directions? Or while building a shelf have you ever attempted to hold up one end while trying to screw in the other end as you stretch with your fingernail to maintain some leverage? Is there anything more manly than a shelf hung on a 14 degree angle because you were unwilling to ask for help?
I once built a woodshed all by myself only to have it collapse during the first winter. Then I fixed it all by myself only to have it collapse again. Even after this second collapse I refused to ask for help. I just went without a woodshed. These are the consequences of defining manliness as a completely self-reliant and independent pile of wet wood.
Lawrence, a client of mine, had an anxiety disorder as a consequence of his definition of manliness. His view, like my own, forbade him from asking for help, and more than that, it kept from saying “no” to any request. The result was a man overrun with work responsibilities and thus strapped with an anxiety problem that was alienating him from those that he loved most. To make things worse, he chose a quack like me to provide him with professional help.
His anxiety got so bad that he had to take a break from his job as a director in a government organization. As a divorced man, it took all of his energy just to manage his two children of 8 and 10 years. He no longer had the ability to manage his career and family. When he finally asked for help, he’d lost everything but his kids.
The propensity to try to be everything to everyone goes way back. During the 40 years of wondering in the desert, Moses served as a judge for the Israelites, settling all their disputes. The Bible says Moses did this, “from morning till evening,” (Ex 18:14). Then Jethro, a shepherd from the desert, told Moses, “what you are doing is not good… the work is too heavy,” (Ex 18:16-18). Moses did not allow his pride or his definition of manliness to stop him from taking this good advice from his father-in-law, Jethro. He sought the help of other responsible people to solve Israel’s disputes and got back to doing what he did best: bringing God to the people.
Whereas I bet Moses could have hung a shelf level and built a good woodshed with the help of his trusted friends, Lawrence would have had the same difficulties that I had with these tasks. As men, we believed that we needed to be islands unto ourselves, lacking nothing.
Luckily for Lawrence, he had enough motivation to change. He had an anxiety disorder, a failed marriage, and he felt he was unable to work. He was extremely motivated by his family. He was torn up by the loss of his marriage, and was determined to do right by his children. In the psychology world we have a really technical term for this kind of motivation: warning bells. Being the skilled quack that I am, I used this determination to help him revamp his view of manhood and move him to change.
In the same way he was motivated to do right by his children, we should be motivated to do right by God. How much more could we accomplish if, for instance, we asked for help from our friends? They have help to offer, and by accepting that help, we are blessed and our friends who provide the help are blessed also. And so the vortex of blessings whirls around and around.
Dietriech Bonehoeffer wrote an excellent book on Christian community called Life Together, in which he says, “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” It is a bonus blessing that God gave to us friends to help us in our humanity, in our frail, struggling-for-faith humanity. It is like the nitrous oxide system in a race car. It was not there when the car was created but it really moves the car along.
If we could see each other as gifts, as Bonhoeffer suggests—“in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity”—then there would be no shame in asking for directions. We should be real about our strengths so that we can help those whom we have the ability to help in their weaknesses. We should likewise be real in our weaknesses, so that we can allow others to be blessed as they help us.
My definition of manliness needed to change and Lawrence helped me to see that. He helped me to see that there are consequences when I don’t ask for help. He also helped me to see that by having an opportunity to aid him I was blessed. So there is no reason for shelves to remain uneven or for wood to go uncovered when we have God-installed brothers around us to help us be more like God intended us to be. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity,” (Psalm 133:1).