God Provides Help Outside of Myself
Okay. Hear me out. I’ve prayed for help, and believe me, my problem was bigger than what I could manage. God gave me wisdom to make some changes that helped, and strength to endure in the meantime, but frankly, it was not enough. I wasn’t ungrateful at all, far from it, but I really needed my problem to go away. I struggled with suffering, knowing that I was at the end of my ability to manage. I wouldn’t say “I’m at the end of my rope” lightly, but I have said those words and meant them.
Did God “give me more than I could handle” so that I would ask another human for help or encouragement? Perhaps! Not everyone struggles to ask for help in the same way. For example, some people have no problem asking God for help, but avoid asking another person for help and suffer needlessly as a result. Other people are willing to ask for help, but only a very select few people. When those people are not available, then life becomes “more than they can bear.” Some people have tried asking for help, but didn’t receive it. Why keep asking? Sometimes people want to ask for help, but doing so involves telling not-so-nice things about someone else. That’s scary. And for some people, their struggle is that they ask for help too quickly, as a first resort. In life, asking too quickly or often can drain the goodwill of your friends and family. When people decline to help (they have maxed out their own schedules), life can feel increasingly overwhelming.
We’ve already looked at the role that supernatural help is found in our lives, but God regularly provides help through human means as well. And that, in itself bears pondering. I can beg God to intervene in my situation, and unwisely overlook or ignore the means of help that he has made available. We see the humor behind the generic common tendency to dismiss human help. (Did you know the “two boats and a helicopter” joke has its own Wikipedia article?) On a personal level, while I am waiting on the Lord, and looking for his provision, I cannot isolate myself from the very people that God has ordained to provide.
We are our brother’s keeper.
In 1 Timothy 5:3-8, Paul gives instructions to churches about the care of needy elderly, and clarifies the normal responsibility for Christian families.
Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives. And these things command, that they may be blameless. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Reader, when we discuss what comes first in priority, Paul is clear. Families have the primary caregiving responsibility, in this context adult children and grandchildren to their parents and grandparents. In those cases where there is no family to care for a person, the church provides care. But God designed the physical family to provide first.
Sadly, many ignore family relationships when there is no “need,” but then in later difficult seasons discover that those neglected relationships are not strong enough to bear the weight of a crisis. Not everyone can depend on family to the same extent, but investing in family relationships throughout one’s life often provides a God-given resource in times of need. As my children begin to grow to young adulthood, we have been encouraging them to keep in contact with each other, even if they are geographically apart. Our prayer is that they would continue in the close relationship that they have already cultivated. (Sibling friendship is a good goal for all families, but one of the blessings of homeschooling for us was having the space and time for our children to learn how to become close friends.) As Lee and I prepare to transition out of the military, the location of our family (our parents and siblings) has been a part of our discussions and priorities. We can’t be near everyone, but when we have the option, being near family is worth pursuing.
For various honorable reasons, families are often separated geographically from extended family. It takes extra effort to stay connected even when we are physically apart, but that effort is well worth the time. I’m interested in learning more how and when to love our families even when we don’t live in the same town. One friend of mine here in Hawaii invites her nieces and nephews to come for a weeklong vacation. She has the opportunity to get to know them in a new way that wasn’t possible during large family gatherings. Another friend relocated when she saw the need to be connected with her older nieces and nephews. Although she has no children of her own, she recognizes that God has given her a ministry of love and mentorship to her siblings’ children. The value of a shared heritage is not something to be cast aside.
Not every family relationship is safe for us or our children. Or we may desire connection, but must be content with what is offered even though we may desire to be closer. Friendships, even family friendships, cannot be forced. Take heart! Some relationships flourish unexpectedly in later years. In all these cases, we need patient wisdom and mercy: wisdom to know how and when to connect, and mercy to perceive and take the opportunities that God does give. For all our family members, it takes mercy to accept the brokenness of humanity with the relationships that are, and not as we would want them to be.
In addition to our biological family, God provides a spiritual family. In fact, the Bible language deliberately evokes family imagery in its discussions of church life, and churches are intended to fill gaps as a needed source of strength and relief. And, like our human families, we can cultivate our relationships or neglect them. We’ve been in the military for twenty years, all of them away from our family. I’m grateful for the ministry of each of our local churches in these years.
Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at some ways that God uses the local church (you and me!) to meet needs.