I just watched the delightful Disney movie, Encanto, for the first time. Now, I'm going to briefly summarize the movie, so if you don't want to be spoiled for it, feel free to skip ahead. This movie follows the story of the magical Madrigal family, and every blood member receives a magical gift which they use to serve and lift their community. Each member finds meaning and a source of pride in being able to serve. This is wonderful – to be raised to freely give of yourself and your gifts to others. However, it crosses the line into toxicity when family members begin to feel like they were ONLY worthy of love if they are actively being useful. When their gifts begin failing, they feel like failures.
I guess I deeply relate to this part of the story, because like the Madrigals, I was also raised to use my gifts to serve others. I loved helping around the house when I was growing up. In fact, I recall many times in which I cleaned up or did extra chores just to make my mom happy, and when she wondered who did it, I would always say that the "elves did it." After I was permanently paralyzed, I became unable to physically serve those around me, and it was a blow to my self-esteem. In fact, I still struggle a little when I see things that I could do around the house to make things better, but I am unable to do any of them. It makes sense to feel sad when you can't do as much as you used to be able to do, but our self worth is NOT what we can physically do.
|The gifted Madrigal family|
Over the course of the movie, the Madrigals' house is destroyed under the strain of these toxic feelings and expectations. The Madrigals – whose legacy, up until this time, has been all about serving others – need help. The Madrigals' townspeople love them for all of their acts of dedicated service. It could be argued, in fact, that they sort of expect the Madrigals to drop everything and come to their aid whenever they want. However, the second that the Madrigals are homeless, the entire town rallies behind them, immediately helping them to rebuild their broken house. The Madrigals graciously accept this service, and their house is rebuilt over time.
I can see this pattern of behavior in our current society. Oftentimes, we don't ask for or accept help from others until something DIRE has happened. It was the case with myself, as well. I was FIERCELY and STUBBORNLY independent before my injury. I wanted to do everything myself, including pay for my own lunch during high school. I insisted on earning and paying for all of the school trips that I took by myself. When I was 18 years old, I moved out of my parents' home at the first possible opportunity. I even fantasized about moving off of the grid, working and living off of the land, reliant on no one but myself. I loved helping others, and I hated getting help. Why? Because I could do it myself.
When I became permanently disabled, I couldn't do it by myself. I couldn't do ANYTHING by myself. I cannot think of a greater humbling experience than the one that I was subjected to. I love life, and I love being alive and living. In order to accomplish this, I HAD to accept help. I HAD to ask for help. I needed a lot of help, and I needed it all of the time. (Still do.) It was difficult wrapping my head around this new reality. When I was getting my undergraduate degree on campus, I often needed help with doors or elevator buttons in order to get to my classes. If I didn't have this help, I could not attend my classes. It was really hard to ask for help from strangers when I really did need it. I felt like a failure for needing help. I felt like any request for help that I made was admitting how weak and broken I was.
|Me graduating from college|
Of course, this line of thinking could not be more flawed. It is not weak to admit that you need help, nor are you a failure if you need it. I mean, if this were the case, I would be one of the biggest failures ever. I think that we can all agree that the last thing that I am is a failure. I know that I have physical weaknesses, but I am not weak. I am strong, and a lot of that strength is derived by successfully asking for and accepting help from others. If you personally know me and have hung out with me for any measure of time, I most likely have asked you for some sort of assistance, and you gave it to me. If you haven't had the privilege of physically being with me, you can imagine that if I asked you for a little help, that you would give it to me, freely and happily. By allowing you to serve me, I am providing you with the opportunity to be of service. It feels wonderful to help others, especially when they really need that help. When you allow others to serve you, even if you don't NEED it to the extent that I do, you are doing the same thing. It is not weakness. There is nothing I can think of that is stronger.
Perhaps Brené Brown, social scientist who studies vulnerability, says it best: “When you judge yourself for needing help, you judge those you are helping. When you attach value to giving help, you attach value to needing help. The danger of tying your self-worth to being a helper is feeling shame when you have to ask for help. Offering help is courageous and compassionate, but so is asking for help.”¹ If you feel put off by the idea of asking someone for help, imagine that the tables were turned. Someone that you love was suffering, and they wanted help, but were afraid to ask. You would WANT them to ask you. You would feel happy and gratified that they would trust you with that kind of vulnerability, and you would want nothing else but to help them. I've got news for you. This is exactly how your close friends and family feel about YOU. They want to be able to help you! (I mean, ideally, it would be nice if people would notice that we needed help and volunteer, but this is not an ideal world.)
In season one episode four of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Applejack grapples with this issue. Here is how her friend Twilight Sparkle explains it: "My friend Applejack is the best friend a pony could ever have, and she's always there to help anypony. The only trouble is, when she needs help, she finds it hard to accept it. So while friendship is about giving of ourselves to friends, it's also about accepting what our friends have to offer.²"
|Applejack realizing she needs her friends’ service|
Ultimately, this means accepting what our friend, Jesus Christ, has done for us through His atonement. I never realized how dependent I should be on His love and mercy until my physical independence was taken from me. I consider it a mercy that I was able to learn this, even in the extreme way that I was taught, so I can help others through my testimony.
However, even if you do not believe in Christ or God (or you believe in a different religious tradition), it is still so important to graciously accept service from others, even when you feel you don't need it. Let them serve you because they love you. It shows that you care about your relationship with them.
Whenever my friends or family ask me for help, I quickly and happily do whatever I can for them. Yes, it feels good to serve others, but more importantly, I want to reward them for being vulnerable enough to ask for it, so they feel comfortable enough to do it again and again and again. It is hard to ask for help, but when others ask us for it, we can make it easier by doing what we can to help.
The main point of this entry is to completely drive home the point that asking for and accepting help is part of the human experience. You will eventually need help, no matter what your current circumstances are. You can do this understanding that it doesn't make you a failure, weak or broken. Or you can do this less graciously, hating that you have to do it at all. When you do it the second way, you will most assuredly come across as ungrateful, and you deprive your helpers of fully being able to show their love for you. Just don't be like that! If you need help, ask for it! If somebody volunteers to help you (especially if you need it), accept that help! Let others love you! The next time that you ask for or accept help, think about how you are being more like me! Think about how proud I will be that you did this! But mostly, you should do this because it shows that you love those who are helping you, and it shows that you love yourself! We all need to love ourselves more! Also, when you are better able to accept help from others, you are more receptive to accepting the gift that our Savior, Jesus Christ, has given us!