Last year, I saw a youth group doing an interesting exercise in trust. A few teenagers were using their jackets as blindfolds as their group partner guided their walk around the church’s garden back to their meeting room.
The idea was for some of the teenagers to learn to guide others, while the other party learned to trust and accept help from their peers. It ultimately showed how accepting God’s loving help, even when we can’t see the path we are supposed to follow, will lead us to where we are supposed to be.
This reminded me of what Helen Alvare, law professor at George Mason University, had said during her keynote speech at the September 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. She said that even when a “gospel of me” seems to be encouraged in today’s world, “the way of happiness, of freedom is the way of interdependent love.”
“We are made to open ourselves to God first and then to every single other neighbor, who like the injured traveler in the good Samaritan story, we happen to find across our particular path,” she said. “You really do find yourself when you lose yourself in the love of other people, beginning with family and moving out into the world.”
She also emphasized that human beings need to first be receivers of love to be givers of love. This made me realize that we learn to support others because we have first received help.
Yet, as we grow older, accepting others’ help is scary because it requires showing our vulnerabilities to other people. Many of us have been raised to believe that we need to solve our own problems, otherwise we appear weak. We are happy to help others but have a hard time asking for or accepting help.
But this can prevent us from growing or, in some cases, from getting the help we truly need.
In a catechesis during the 2016 World Youth Day in Poland, Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle talked about how in modern culture, one’s self worth is measured by success and that it seems like “the greatest sin of our time is to say, ‘I have failed.’”
The Filipino cardinal told a crowd of 15,000 young pilgrims about the importance of opening ourselves to mercy, which means accepting when we need help.
He added that the rise of the modern “self-made” human being makes it harder for many people to open up themselves to others, including God. This is because of the idea that “if you allow others to help you, to guide you, you do not qualify as successful,” he said.
In trying to be self-reliant or self-made to an extreme, a person can confuse accepting others’ help with losing dignity. But, he continued, “that person will not allow anyone — even God — to touch his heart or her heart for it is an insult.”
The teenagers in the youth group received a valuable lesson about their spiritual journey through that exercise: their dependence on others and on God.
By accepting help, we recognize that we cannot do it alone. That we need God to guide us, to help us when we most need it. We open ourselves to receiving mercy.
Divine help comes through human hands and hearts. Accepting others’ help is a way to gracefully accept God’s help and to let others become instruments of his mercy.