31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 22, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
We know how this story ends. Brought by his persistent, not going to give up friends, the paralytic man is lowered from the ceiling in a most dramatic manner, to be placed before Jesus and healed.
We know how this story ends. How does it begin though? Whose idea is it to go to Jesus and seek healing for this man? His or his friends?
It’s hard to ask for help. It’s hard to ask for compassion and loving-kindness. If it was the man’s idea to ask his friends to carry him to Jesus, can you imagine how difficult that was?
‘So, see, I was thinking, that maybe, if you aren’t too busy, that maybe the group of you could take the day off from work and carry me to this man who I think, I hope, maybe, can do the miraculous and heal my legs, allowing me to walk again – but only if you have nothing else to do, really it’s not a big deal and I could totally find someone else to do it if you are too busy or don’t want to.’
That’s how most of us ask for help, for ourselves, for our families, for our ministries – even our ministries that do such good and change the world. It is hard to ask for help. Because as Amanda Palmer writes in The Art of Asking, we too often believe:
If I ask for help, I am not enough.
If I ask for help, I am weak.
[She goes on to write] It’s no wonder so many of us just don’t bother to ask.
It’s too painful. (Palmer, The Art of Asking, pg 175)
It’s too painful because in our do-it-yourself culture, we have really internalized this belief that if we need to ask for help, we are not enough.
Tom Berlin, also writes about our struggles to ask for help. In his book Courage: Jesus and the Call to Brave Faith, Tom writes:
Many people have an inner voice that tries to convince them not to reach out to others, not to be a burden, and to get their act together. This voice tells you that the good you long for is not possible, that while God made everything and called it good, you are the exception. It is the voice that tells you that God does not watch you, care for you, or has lost interest in the messy parts of your life. It takes courage to quiet that voice. (Tom Berlin, Courage, 2021, Pg 45)
It takes courage to quiet that voice. It takes courage to ignore it when it says – Don’t ask for help; Don’t need help. Get your act together; Be independent and self-reliant, otherwise you are weak. You are a burden. You are not enough.
Amanda Palmer challenges this voice and this belief by sharing some little known facts about Henry David Thoreau, the American naturalist and writer who spent 3 years living at Walden pond:
Thoreau wrote in painstaking detail about how he chose to remove himself from society to live by his own means in a little ten-by-fifteen foot hand-hewn cabin on the side of a pond. What he left out of Walden, though, was the fact that the land he built on was borrowed from his wealthy neighbor, that his pal Ralph Waldo Emerson had him over for dinner all the time, and that every Sunday, Thoreau’s mother and sister brought him a basket of freshly baked goods…., including donuts (Palmer, The Art of Asking, pg 178)
Even Henry David Thoreau, as he wrote his famous manual on self-reliance and personal independence, needed the help of others, depended on the loving-kindness of others, accepted the donuts.
No matter how much we might like to believe it, no matter that we think it will save us from heartache and pain, we are not independent and self-reliant. And God did not create us to be that way either. We are all connected. We are all members of one body. We are all inextricably bound to one another. We need one another. We need help from one another.
So was it the paralyzed man who courageously asked others to help him or was it a family member, a friend, someone from his community who offered the help?
As challenging as it is to be vulnerable and ask for help, sometimes, it is even tougher to accept someone’s offer of compassion and loving-kindness. Sometimes, we are embarrassed, even ashamed for them to see the need we thought we were hiding so well. Sometimes, that inner voice is telling us that “while God made everything and called it good, [we] are the exception.”
In the movie “All My Life”, based on the real lives of Solomon Chau and Jennifer Carter, Sol and Jenn are a young couple planning their wedding and future when they discover that Sol has liver cancer. At first, they decide to go through with their wedding anyway, planning something simple and affordable. Then, when the medical bills begin to mount and Sol’s prognosis is dire, they decide to postpone their wedding.
Which is where their friends step in and make an incredible offer, the friends want to create a go fund me page to finance the wedding of their dreams, and each friend has already committed money to get it started.
It’s an incredible offer of loving-kindness and yet, Sol hesitates. Doesn’t it seem greedy to ask others to pay for their wedding? Why would people even do that?
As challenging as it is to ask for help, sometimes, it is even tougher to accept someone’s offer of compassion and loving-kindness. Sometimes, fear, fear of what others will think, fear of looking weak, fear of not being worthy of people’s time, money, and effort, sometimes, fear keeps us from accepting the help and loving-kindness people so generously want to give.
We know how the story of the paralytic man ends. He is placed before Jesus and he has his sins forgiven. He is freed from his burdens, his insecurities and fears. He is freed to walk again.
And whether the man was courageous enough to ask for help or courageous enough to accept the loving-kindness offered, both are miraculous acts. In both situations, the man embraced himself as a beloved child of God, worthy of compassion and loving kindness, and acknowledged his place in God’s kingdom, connected to God and to all of God’s creatures and creation.
Like the paralyzed man, when we share compassion and loving-kindness and when we accept compassion and loving-kindness, we are healing ourselves as we also heal the world of sin and brokenness.
Our acts and words of compassion and loving-kindness, both given and received, say I am a beloved child of God; You are a beloved child of God. We are all connected. We are all worthy of compassion and loving-kindness. We are all worthy of God’s love.