Craig Jones Columnist
OK, So I’m not James Bond.
My earliest lesson in being taught to ask for help sounded something like this.
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
A hymn from my Baptist boyhood deeply dyed in God and church and the Bible. It goes on.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer
It’s all there, isn’t it? Needless pain and forfeited peace because we do not ask. The privilege of seeking (and receiving). No one as faithful. One who shares our sorrow and knows our weaknesses. He can fix it, he can help. It all sounds great, until you finally get tired of waiting for answers that never come and you run out of theological arguments about why they don’t. The well is dry.
Then what do you do?
What I did was attend a weekend for men, thirty years ago this month. I have hung out around the circles and the men’s teams and the campfires generated by that weekend ever since. Like the slow formation of a stalagmite, drop by limestone drop, I have heard “Don’t do it alone” and “Trust the men” and have been asked “Are you doing it alone?” hundreds upon hundreds of times. I have said those words and asked men the same question myself.
The truth is, I still don’t get it and I’m certain I never will.
Not then at 37, not now at 67, not at 77, not ever. Thirty years of doing this work and that’s where I am.
No matter how many more times I’m asked “Are you doing it alone?” the honest answer will be “Yes.”
I’m resigned to it and have decided to let it go. I can spend my energy on other work that is important to me. It’s like resigning myself to gravity. I can work with it or fight it. I can “cooperate with opposing forces,” as one learns in T’ai Chi, or I can lose. Those are the two choices.
In acknowledging that my default is never going to be a proactive asking for help, I become free. No more including it in annual goals or resolutions, only to end up failing once again. No more feeling like shit because I have to own up to how I’m “doing it alone.” Fuck it, I don’t have the time to beat myself up about this anymore.
Okay, so time out. I admit I may be unduly pessimistic about this. Maybe, just maybe, if I were to do this work for another thirty years, I’d get it. I would learn how to initiate an ask. It’s been said that there are two learning types in men. Those who learn slowly and those who don’t learn at all.
I may now be one of the former type. It does seem like, after all these decades, I have begun to embrace one aspect of getting help. I more and more often do not reject help when it is offered, even if I haven’t asked for anything. That’s low-hanging fruit, admittedly, but it’s a start. Part of the formula is surrounding yourself with others who know and love you and want your best.
I am married to a woman who has no problem asking for help. In fact, she thrives on it. She teaches me daily. I watch her get a lot done, because she doesn’t get caught up in a story about how she is supposed to know something. I know she loves me for who I am and doesn’t care if I am not James Bond, totally proficient in all things. That guy, our bête noire, the fantasy mother fucker we all hate. Multilingual, martial arts expert, oenophile, expert carpenter, poker player, able to seduce any woman and deliver multiple orgasms multiple ways, cool car. The one against whom I will never match up.
A couple of years ago, a friend of ours came to work on the gate to our backyard, because she asked if there was anything he could do to shore it up before a dinner we were having at our house. Many times I had re-drilled the hole in the two-by-four where the lock inserts and over time the gate had gotten worn and rotten in places and also gotten pulled off the hinge or had hyper-extended the hinge and little pests had found ways to gain entrance underneath and around where it had gotten rickety. He came because of his generous spirit and love and brought all his cool tools, power and otherwise, miter saw, drills and a million bits, sawhorses and his habit of approach to solving problems like this.
He can do a lot. He’s a practical, smart, hard-working man who knows what he’s doing, and he came early to dinner, in a separate vehicle from his wife, just to do this for us. Then, she arrived later, as did our other two friends, the husband of whom pitched right in and contributed to the project since he too knows how to do work like this. Unasked, he just started in like he was part of the dance, suggesting ideas that helped, sawing, drilling and measuring.
They’re both handier than I am, in the whole scheme of things. I’m a competent enough laborer, for sure (just like I’m a good hand on a sailboat, but not a skipper), but I don’t usually see the big picture of how it will all fit together. I told him I always learn something when I watch him. The gate was tight and level when they were done, wholly admirable, and we all had our dinner and talked into the night and drank wine and made plans for our next meal and they all went home.
I noticed, reflecting later, that my mind went at first to “I should be the one in charge of this, the one with the carpentry knowledge, the right tools, the big picture.” But I banished the thought quickly, because I know now that I gravitate more naturally to how to build with words, how to create a word picture out of a moment. I’m a writer. I construct with words, not wood or metal.
Maybe in another 30 years, I would have actually asked our friend myself. In lieu of that, next best thing is having the right circles of people in my life and, however fraught the decision feels, to accept help I didn’t reach out for.
To do the impossible.
Read more of Craig Jones and his “GratiDude” HERE