Posts Tagged ‘asking is an art’

2011_0617Nicaragua0509“Would you be willing to help?” I asked her as we stood in the door together, framed in old oak.

Maria is Peruvian, from New York,  living here in California, away from home,  trying to make a go of it with her daughter and husband in a small apartment. San Diego, California is a foreign place to her, as it is to so many of its residents.

“Yes, I will, ” she said.

“You can think about it,” I hedged.

“No, I’ll do it,” Maria responded quickly.

“Great,” I said, “then will you go downstairs before you leave today and tell  Jeanie that you’ll be on her team?”  Maria left me, smiling, to tell her new team leader.

It was good, how she was so quickly willing, and it was good, because we needed her. We needed her to help us give more food away, because in our church, we are aiming for an outrageous generosity, and that takes a group. I gave her a hug. Love felt present.

I looked at her smiling face, more visible to me than only moments before, when she had been just another face among the 160 people in the room, one of many, sitting and watching. But now, standing in the doorway, there she was mattering. She was suddenly more included, and she was just perhaps,  becoming more Californian. Asking her to help — it seemed to make a bit of home for her here.

The ask, the response — it’s needed, by all of us, because we are too much alone, and because there is a huge amount to do when we set out to be generous, and because generosity is best done by a team. Every good NGO and every effective nonprofit knows that.

It has come to me of late, that asking is an art, unpracticed by many, and responding  is an art too, also largely neglected in its various subtly shaded nuances.

The art is in knowing who to ask for what, when and how.

It’s interesting, however, that asking and responding doesn’t always go well.

The very same day that Maria became a member of our food team, a homeless friend of mine came to the church and asked me for food.

I said to him, “I can’t help you right now; I’m meeting with someone.”  He took that well and went back to his car.

But then I saw that I had some home-baked cookies on my desk. At that moment, suddenly I felt like a bon vivant, expose for surfiet. I ran out to him, before he could drive away, and gave him the cookies. On his car seat was a powerbar, partially eaten. He look horrible. I felt badly for him. He was so broken, so irresponsible, so alone, so done.

I had told him only two days before, to come at noon for food that day, and that at that time he would get a really good bag of food from us, but he didn’t. Instead, he came on his own timetable, later, even though he has nothing to do, and it didn’t fit our schedule at all, and the best food was all already given away. It was also the case  that he has often ignored the opportunities to get food when we give it out, and then come late, asking just after we have finished our day’s effort.

So I said, “no,” and I felt okay about it.

Some people are in the habit of asking, too much,  at inappropriate times, for things they should be providing for themselves. My friend is one of those people.

It’s an art, asking, and an art too,  knowing when to say “no.”

I like asking people for things, and I like saying “no” when that’s the best response — for them. More asking is needed, to get more important things done, and more saying “no” is needed, to people who should be doing more for themselves.

Considering the issues our world faces, there is too much asking that is quite simply selfish, and there is not enough asking that is deeply rooted and nourished in love.

Our broken planet and our scattered people need massive amounts of help, but too many us are not taking the responsibility to do something or to ask others to. Why? So many reasons.  We ourselves are selfish, and we tend to our own affairs rather than others. And when we do serve others, some of us really prefer to work alone, or we say we do because it is “easier.”  It is not. There are other excuses.  We say, “people are busy,” and that “We don’t want to burden them,”  and they are, but it is often doing a bunch of things less important than helping others.  And, we are afraid to ask people to help, because we are afraid of being told, “No, I can’t,” with perhaps the implication, “You are making things so awkward by asking.”

None of that is really it.

The real hold back is that we don’t have enough love in us. It is not selfishness that holds us back, as we might first expect, or fear, or awkwardness.  It is love, a missing love that holds us back, because if we store up enough love inside of us, that love will totally suffocate and annihilate selfishness and fear.

The world clearly lacks love’s driving passion, love’s “ask,”  love’s intrinsic leadership, love’s deep desire to make a place for people to belong and to have what they need. There are so many things that need to be done, like feeding people who don’t have enough to eat, but so often, most of us don’t really believe in the importance of such things. We can tell because we are doing nothing to help, or to ask others to help.

We ignore the things that most need doing, things like valuing children, like healing our earth,  like protecting people from violence,  like being there for the victims of sexual abuse,  like making sure kids grow up with a chance to learn, like mentoring a young person,  like helping someone who is marginalized find a new place to belong.

Something is missing in us, a passion to help is missing, and the courage to ask for help is missing, but gladly, it is something that we can change. We can make the choice to make important things matter. We can say “no” to lesser things. We can choose to love. Love is a choice that acted on, brings passion along with it, and it has a natural momentum that pulls others in,  and it is a choice we can make at any moment and in every moment of life. It is a choice to see, and to act, and to value others, to help them to stand out, from the room.

We can stand in a door, and we can see a person in front of us, really see them, see who they really are, and we can do something needed for us and for them.

Love, it’s good. Love see’s who’s there. Love is strong and powerful and much needed to fix what can be and  needs to be fixed.

Love, we need it more — it makes the ask.