Sooner or later, people come to some issue where they may want to go it alone, but they need help. I sometimes confront people, but in a way I hope is gentle. I take hold of my shirt sleeve and ask rhetorically, “When I wanted a shirt, did I go out and plant cotton?”
Depending on how it goes from there, I may go on to point out that when I bought the shirt, I relied on someone to plant the cotton, someone to harvest it, someone else to take the cotton to a place to be spun into thread, someone else to put the thread on a loom to weave cloth, someone else to make the cloth into a garment, and a veritable fleet of truck drivers to transport the intermediate and the final products. Everyday life requires us to be dependent on others for many things. In fact, the division of labor makes life better for us. There are many examples: even the most talented musician is unlikely to be able to play violin, viola, clarinet, oboe, french horn, trumpet, tympani– everything in a symphony orchestra– and even if they could, they couldn’t do all of them at once. It’s the collaboration of the group that makes for the beauty and power of the orchestra.
Why, then, is it so hard to allow ourselves to be helped when it comes to mental/emotional issues? Well, of course, sometimes we are more open to it than others. We may get help from family, friends, a spiritual director or pastor, or see a therapist. But it is complicated, no question. Perhaps a family member is too involved to be a disinterested helper. Sometimes a friend is too quick to jump to problem solving and has a hard time listening. But the barriers to getting help can be inside us, as well. Maybe we have a hard time talking about it, or don’t trust anyone, or are inhibited for any one of a number of reasons. Perhaps a pastor of spiritual director will direct us to a therapist because the issues are outside of what is considered the scope of a spiritual director.
By the same token, we can get advice from others who have been through similar experiences. We can ask other parents, what did you do when your kid just couldn’t seem to get their homework turned in? Who did you find who was a reliable handyman to fix the front steps? What was it like caring for your elderly relative with Alzheimer’s? And there are, of course the 200+ twelve step programs, all based on the idea of one sufferer, who has been through a similar experience, helping another. Being networked in to a community, being part of an interdependent group, is likely to help. If you already are a cotton farmer, go ahead and plant cotton. But I’ll bet that even cotton farmers go to the store to buy their cotton clothing. It’s OK to depend on others.