I wonder if we realize that we have been so formed by a culture of individualism and self-reliance that we find ourselves in bondage to it. We see ourselves as our own individual boats, not part of a fleet.
By Jessica Ptomey Ph.D.
18 January 2019
I need help.
Those are three words that we usually only hear spoken in moments of high frustration, when someone has reached the max, the breaking point, or is totally overwhelmed. In fact, when I write those three words I immediately think of them punctuated by an exclamation mark. I don’t imagine them as I have written them above, with a nice calm period at the end.
If the words are spoken in a conversation, aren’t they often admitted with a sigh? With a heavy resignation that feels like surrender to defeat? Do you think of someone saying those three words – “I need help” – with a joyful tone and a smile upon her face? Probably not.
Why is it that needing help, not being fully autonomous, fills us with frustration rather than joy? Why is needed assistance an indication of something lacking in us? Why do so many women want to juggle, multi-task, and power through all by themselves? The truth is that we don’t really know ourselves or we aren’t really honest with ourselves.
Think about the last time that someone helped you out in a way that was life-changing. How would it have felt to ask for that help? How did it feel after it was given? In answer to the first, probably dread; in answer to the last, probably relief. We fight so hard to be self-sustaining; but, in the end, we welcome the arm that lifts the heavy burden off our backs.
I wonder if we realize that we have been so formed by a culture of individualism and self-reliance that we find ourselves in bondage to it. We see ourselves as our own individual boats, not part of a fleet. All of our endeavors, and the various tasks that go along with completing them, must be accomplished solo.
With things big or small there is the drive for the self-satisfying completion of a goal. I folded four loads of laundry today…I wrote a blog post…I got to all of the most important disciplines…I ran all of my errands and handled everyone’s schedule changes with perfect execution.
We want to check-off all our boxes, and we act as if the checkmark only counts if we did the thing entirely ourselves. Even the idea of task lists is completely individualistic. This is what I am in charge of here; that is on this person’s list over there. I think we realize this mindset doesn’t work on a small scale. Perhaps with various jobs or projects we value the idea of working together to get the job done. But in our personal and overall perspective, we take on tasks and the job of living this life as “mine.”
Why this individualistic perspective that prizes personal achievement over collective effort? I think that, ultimately, we have created the wrong narrative in our heads. We view ourselves as the hero of the story, the leading lady, the main character; and all of the people in our lives are supporting roles to our overall narrative. Within this perspective, they quickly become accessories to us…objects in our story, rather than persons with their own.
It’s not that we don’t all have our own stories; it’s just that we have taken our own stories to be central. We have failed to realize that the grand narrative is God’s, and we are all supporting characters in His story.
We have started our hectic adults lives from the premise that we are people who must become something and make something of ourselves, that we have our stories to write and we better get started. We constantly hear this narrative spoken to us in the self-help genre: are you living the life that you want to live?
We have missed the point that we are already part of the best story. We have been invited into it, and no one is excluded from it. It’s a collective narrative that celebrates the communal nature of the gospel. Will we accept the invitation? Will we open ourselves to the joy of needing others and the blessing of being needed by them? There is immense freedom in recognizing that we are living – alongside of others – in God’s story.
Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey
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Photo Credit: Jessica Ptomey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Jessica is a wife, mom, writer, Communications scholar, and adjunct professor. She blogs on topics that include: Christian living, Catholicism, and culture. As a Catholic convert and former Evangelical Protestant, Jessica promotes ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics in both her writing and academic scholarship. She lives in the DC suburbs with her husband, three sons, and daughter.