When we were very young, my parents bought me and my sisters each a storybook in the Little Miss series by Roger Hargreaves. The books are small, slim paperbacks that follow the lives of their titular cartoon characters: Emily got Little Miss Sunshine and Sarah got Little Miss Bossy. Mine was called Little Miss Helpful.
It was one of my favorite stories. As you might guess, Little Miss Helpful spends her days trying to help people who are in need as she comes across them. She can’t resist the urge to try to make things better for others, whether it’s by tying their shoes, giving first aid, or cleaning their house.
To tell you the truth, I think I identified with her quite a bit, even from a young age. I liked to think that I could make life easier and better for the people in my life. I enjoyed giving friends advice, helping sisters with homework, helping teachers organize papers, taking care of the other girls while my parents were out.
I liked thinking of myself that way: helpful. Indispensable, even.
Not much has changed in that respect since I was a child. I still love being and feeling helpful–as an employee, as a friend, as a volunteer at my church, as a babysitter, big sister, girlfriend, and daughter. In fact, I recently took the Enneagram test (a personality test highly touted by the business world and in many spiritual contexts, even more reliable and higher in validity than the Myers-Briggs) and I am a strong Type 2, otherwise known as–guess what?–The Helper. Below are some of the Type 2’s basic characteristics.
Copyright 2016, The Enneagram Institute.
Interestingly enough, although Type 2s only make up 12% of the total population, approximately 83% of those Type 2s are female. It’s also by far the most common Enneagram type for women. This doesn’t surprise me, as Western cultural norms (and, I daresay, the Western Church) have groomed women in many ways to desire and cultivate the characteristics of this type, which are associated with their traditional ideas of femininity: helpfulness, generosity, warmth, being relational, caring for other people, sacrificing your needs for someone else’s. Like me, many women identify themselves as helpers and want others to perceive them that way.
Being a Helper is a good thing, and all of these characteristics are God-glorifying and worthy of our aspiration. But after certain conversations and interactions I’ve had recently, I’ve been seeing that, as with all good things, there is such a thing as too much. Some people don’t actually want or (gasp) need my help.
Helping isn’t always helpful.
And the more I’ve thought about these incidents, the more I’ve seen how my compulsion to help and the dreadful pride, fear, and selfishness behind it has negatively affected other areas of my life.
I’ve hurt others. I’ve enabled my loved ones, manipulated them, and made many of them feel like projects instead of people. I’ve made people feel disrespected, as though I thought them completely incompetent. I’ve insensitively offered solutions to their problems and pain with little to no understanding, instead of just being there to listen and empathize. I’ve been bossy and controlling with others because if I tell them exactly what to do, I’ve saved them the trouble of figuring their issues out all by themselves.
I’ve hurt myself. I’ve caused myself unnecessary and overwhelming anxiety by taking on responsibility for others, their problems, and the future that was never my burden to bear. I’ve become image-conscious and hypocritical, caring more about appearing helpful than actually helping, acting like some sort of martyr.
And ultimately, I’ve hurt my relationship with God by resting my salvation and my worth on my ability to help myself, others, and even God Himself–not on what Jesus has already done on the cross to help me.
I’m not the only one who’s caused more hurt by trying to help. Look at Little Miss Helpful: the more she tries to fix others’ problems without asking, the more she ruins nearly everything around her, because she’s arrogant enough to think she can fix it, even though she doesn’t really know what she’s doing.
Jesus, on the other hand, had total understanding. And yet, despite His all-knowing nature, He never tried to fix people, the broken people who might make us in the Church uncomfortable. He gave them truth, certainly, and asked them to repent of sin, but He never tried to solve others’ problems without their consent. In fact, He didn’t try to solve everyone’s problems in the first place. Why?
Because Jesus wasn’t there to be merely a solution to a problem. He was there to love them through that problem. Love and intimacy–not a fix–were His end.
Unfortunately (but actually really fortunately), I am not Jesus.
This habit isn’t going to be an easy one to break, especially because the desire to be helpful is usually seen as a good thing. And to be honest, I can’t always easily identify my own motivations. I don’t really know the answer.
But I think that’s okay, because I have to stop assuming I know the answers in the first place. I have to stop acting like I have it all together.
And, fellow Wanderers, you can help me, too, by holding me accountable (that means I need you to call me out when you see these things happening, and even occasionally get up in my face about it. But like, not mean. Cause I’m a human, too, and, y’know, Jesus). I have to start asking for people if they even want help or advice before dishing it out. Not only that, but I have to ask people how they would like me to help them, too, because not all helping looks and feels the same in every situation. I have to cultivate Jesus’ humility and love for you all instead of trying to fix you, like I’m doing God a favor by stepping in, because guess what? God doesn’t need my favors. God thinks my favors are trash (and let’s be real, sometimes probably you do, too).
“Nor is [God] served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Acts 17:25
God is going to be my biggest aid in all this, though. He is the very best Helper, our Jehovah-Ezer, and He already knows and gives us exactly what we need, when we need it. If I remember this, will be easier for me to help and serve others with freedom and authenticity and love.
It will certainly be a long road, and a tough one. I’m going to need as much help as I can get.
But I think I’m okay with that.