When Help is Neither Kind Nor Loving

There’s a drawing I’ve seen titled, “random acts of kindness.”  The drawing shows a person sitting in the rain and holding an umbrella over a flower so it won’t get wet.  It’s a cute sketch, it’s sweet, and it’s meant to be heartwarming.   Usually, when I see the picture, I give the short smile of a thought it’s due and move on.  The other day, however, it struck me: Why is the person sheltering the flower from the rain?  The person means well, I’m sure, but the flower needs the rain to live and grow!

I couldn’t find the original creator of the picture, but you can see it by viewing my Google search results here.  The first picture or so should be the one I’m describing.  The contradiction in the picture seems obvious, yet it took me several encounters with the sketch to notice how the so-called act of kindness is actually blocking the flower from what it needs to survive.  Do our acts of kindness go similarly unexamined?   Do we, like the little man in the picture, try to “help” without first asking what kind of help (if any) is truly needed?

The needs we try to address range from great to small.  There are immediate, obvious needs, when a disaster strikes an area, as the tornadoes that devastated Moore, Oklahoma earlier this week.  Whenever there is a highly-publicized heart-wrenching disaster, offers of aid pour in from all over the country.  Often, that “help” takes the form of sending unneeded, unsolicited items, which turn out to be of no use to the people affected (and also create more work for victims and the trained aid workers trying to meet their immediate needs).  Sometimes, presumably well-meaning people travel to the affected area to lend a hand, but just cause more disruption.  We rush to action, choosing to help in the way we want to help, in essence putting our own desires ahead of the people in need.

Read 5 Ways to Get Involved in Disaster Relief for more on what is helpful is disaster situations.  In the article, Ed Setzer writes, “Yes, we live in a world where some want to do more than they want to help, but at the end of the day that is more selfish than helpful. Ministering to disaster victims should be about meeting their needs, not fulfilling our need to feel helpful.”  If you don’t get a chance to read the article, here’s a hint: usually the best approach is to financially support established aid organizations.

Unkind, unloving “help” doesn’t only occur in extreme situations.  We force our kind of “help” on people in everyday small situations, too.  My favorite example comes from Paul Miller, writing in Love Walked Among Us, when he described an interaction with his ten-year-old daughter.  His daughter, Kim, suffers from physical and speech disabilities.  She walked in front of him down the stairs, carrying her crayons as he carried her books.  Partway down, the crayons spilled all over the steps.  It occurred to him to ask Kim if she wanted him to help and, to his surprise, she shook her head no.  He waited while she slowly picked up the crayons, realizing it was better for her to practice using her fingers, even if that meant he had to wait.

After the crayons incident, Miller reflected, “I’ve learned that love is not efficient.  My wants, if gone unchecked, would have hurt Kim ever so slightly.  By saying ‘no’ to myself, my love for her could be pure, unpolluted by my own desires.  Jesus commends the person who relates this way: ‘Blessed are the meek’ (Matthew 5:5). Blessed are those who don’t push their will on others.”

So, the next time you see someone walking alone in the rain without an umbrella, don’t insist that they use yours… ask them if they’d like to use your umbrella.  Maybe they will gratefully accept, but maybe they just want to walk in the rain.  We’re not flowers, but we all enjoy a little rain now and then.

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2 Responses to When Help is Neither Kind Nor Loving

  1. I think the tendency of people to want contribute to disaster relief when terrible things happen is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing for obvious reasons, but it’s also not a good thing to only contribute to charity whenever we feel bad because of what’s on the news. There are many good causes that are combating some of the more insidious evils in our world and our country (e.g. poverty, prejudice, etc.). These tend to go unnoticed.

    I also personally am somewhat saddened to see all of the Web ads for the Red Cross whenever a disaster occurs. It strikes me as opportunism more than genuine concern for those affected by tragedy. I’m sure most of the people that work for that organization do a lot of good, but their past (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Red_Cross#Controversies) and the amount their President makes ($500,000 to $1,000,000 according to http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/charities.asp) make me reluctant to contribute to it.

  2. Also, extraordinarily wet days at W&M (a gratefully common occurrence) were some of the best days to run!

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