Laura Lundgren is a pastor’s wife at Gateway Community Church in Middleton, WI and the mother of four young children. Before staying home with her children, she taught high school English in Colorado and Wisconsin.
The woman who exhausts me most is the woman who won’t let anyone help her.
She’s the first to show up with a meal or wash your dishes, but she always responds “I’m fine!” when you ask how you can help her. She would never show up to a potluck without a dish to pass. Such a woman has a profound misunderstanding of the grace of God that has been offered to us.
I know this, because I am her.
A few Sundays ago I found myself frantically searching grocery aisles for something cheap enough, healthy enough, and generous enough to be a dish worthy of the pastor’s wife. Once again, I’d realized only minutes before church that I didn’t have anything to bring. My husband, the pastor of our small church, told me not to worry about it.
There will be plenty of food, he said. There always is.
But what will people think if I show up with four hungry kids and empty hands? I reasoned.
My reason won; I showed up with with a crumpled receipt in my purse and another dessert to stuff the already-crowded end of the buffet line.
It wasn’t until later that the question struck me: How can I claim to understand grace if I can’t even show up to a potluck empty-handed?
There’s a certain American ethos that encourages us to do for ourselves and to be embarrassed about having to borrow or, worse yet, to accept what we can’t repay. As a mother of young kids and a pastor’s wife, I feel this temptation toward self-sufficiency. My weeks are demanding and my weekends overbooked. I’m a high-energy, achievement-oriented person; always tempted to manage life without owing anyone. But accomplishing everything on my own only feeds my pride, isolates me, and leaves me desperate for applause.
It isn’t until the applause doesn’t come that I realize how desperately I was hoping for it. I realize I didn’t bring that dish to pass, but to impress.
As usual, though, the gospel stands in stark contrast to the assumptions of our age. Instead, Jesus instructs those who would follow them to make a guest list entirely out of those who will show up empty-handed. In Luke 14 he tells his followers:
“When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they may invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Since they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Of course it’s easy to see yourself as the generous host in this scenario. Almost anyone can drum up enough altruism to be the magnanimous host of such a party. But it has taken me years to begin to imagine myself in the role of the empty-handed guest.
Can I stand to receive such an invitation, knowing that this means I am to be numbered among the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind?
Understanding the Gospel
Overachieving Christians need to remember that we’re not just called to serve; we’re also those in need of help. A desire to help others is good and right. However, a refusal to accept help is a sign of pride, not holiness or competence.
Accepting help from other people is an admission that we need help, that we are not self-sufficient but instead members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27). If we don’t permit others to love us through helping us, we make it hard for them to perform their roles in the body of Christ (Gal 5:13). When we accept help, we’re obeying Jesus’ command to love one another (Jn 13:34-35).
Our need for others is clear in scripture (Gen 2:18, 1 Cor 1:9, Eph 4:15-16). If you would rather not be in need of others, you’re missing the gospel’s central message: you stand before God as one in need, and what you need above all is Jesus.
When we accept others’ help we not only provide others a chance to demonstrate their obedient love (1 Jn 4:20-21) but we also recognize our own limits. It’s only through the humility of admitting that our efforts are not enough that we can experience the riches of God’s grace, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Accepting the Help
One practical way I’ve found to put on humility is by making it a rule that if someone offers to help me, I have to accept their offer. Strangers have helped me load my groceries into the car while I strap kids into their seats. Good friends have met me in the church parking lot to grab my diaper bag and the hand of an enthusiastic preschooler. It is humbling, but it gets less humiliating over time to admit that I need help; bit by bit my pride is starved as awareness of God’s faithfulness grows through the helping hands of those he’s placed around me.
By his grace, I’ve grown more approachable and less defensive as I’ve learned, little by little, to accept my limitations and rejoice in the merciful acts of kindness that get me through my days.
There will come another Sunday, sooner or later, when I realize too late I’ve forgotten to bring my part of the meal. I plan to show up (maybe just once) empty-handed and hungry, if for no other reason than to let myself see how meager my humble offerings really are, especially in light of the feast that I’m invited to enjoy anyhow.