28 August 2015

When to Ask for Help: Toddler Lessons on Ability and Dependence

My three-year-old daughter is confused about when to ask for help.

"I need help!" she cries...
when feeding herself,
when putting on her slip-on shoes,
when climbing up into her chair,
when walking home from the grocery store (and Mommy is carrying all the groceries).

My patient voice sometimes answers with a "You can do this, sweetie. You've done it before, and you know how." My impatient voice sometimes adds: "Stop pretending. You're a big girl, and you're being lazy."

On the other hand, she is equally adamant about not asking for help.

"I don't need help!" she cries...
when untangling herself from pajamas she's put on upside down and backward,
when climbing steep, uneven stairs that are clearly dangerous,
when reaching for a toy on the top shelf,
when crossing the street.

If her safety is in jeopardy, there are usually no words--just Mommy's quick grip. But if her stubborn will can only lead to frustration, I wait it out. She will come for help eventually.

Help me to understand my daughter, I pray. She still needs me in many ways, but she is also growing up and can do things independently.

That is when the Lord turned the story so I became the child and He the parent.

"I need help!" I cry...
when battling anger,
when too exhausted to parent with grace,
when I'm sucked into Facebook or naps or chocolate,
when I lack courage to speak or act.

Yes, it is true that I always need God, but that is not the kind of call for help I'm referring to here. Imagine this cry like a spoiled moan. Hear it as a call for help when I have not done anything to counter these bad choices. In these things, He has equipped me. He has shown me how to fight against sin, how to prioritize rest, how to focus on kingdom things, and how to muster bravery from God's Word. For me to cry for help without first obeying and loving Him must sound like a tiresome whine. I think of my toddler's wail "Carry me!" when she is able and strong to walk. Don't I sometimes groan the same prayer to my Father? Does He then answer in much the same way I do as a parent: "I am here, but you can do this. You know what to do." Are many of my pleas for help really laziness? 

But then there are times when the same four struggles warrant genuine pleas for help, but I withhold them.

"I don't need help," I arrogantly say...
while anger boils down into bitterness,
while my children whimper under my self-neglect,
while my addictions overpower my passions,
while my cowardice allows another opportunity to pass.

If I see sin in my life but dismiss it, it's like a child ignoring danger. "I don't need help," she says in her still-babyish voice as she steps off the curb on her own. Not okay! In the same way, God can act in what seems like a quick, harsh movement--for my safety!

This has the illusion of being dangerous! Good thing she was just standing on the ground. :)

And when I refuse to ask for help because of my pride, I set myself up for frustration. "I don't need help," she yells while trying to fix the demolished toy. If she would ask for and accept help, her work would be fruitful instead of empty. Likewise, when I lift my chin and insist on doing things in my own strength, the results are often unfulfilling and even wasted. To ask God (and others) for help is to live the gospel truths of inadequacy, submission, and community.

Help me to understand my daughter, I had prayed. Thank you, Lord. She has much to learn about asking for help, but so do I. By grace, we will learn together.

Abide in Him,

This post is part of a conversation on "Ask" at Velvet Ashes' The Grove.

Related articles you may also appreciate:
Motherhood and the Blessing of Sight
The Danger of Commiseration
Just Obey: My cry to my kids and God's to me


  1. Beautiful! Amazing the mirror reflection our children provide us, eh?

    And the IKEA bowl and Asian spoon made me smile. The similarities of our lives are big and small. :)

  2. I always look forward to reading your writing Malia, but this post was amazing! I had to read it again to wrap my brain around the concepts. Very profound, true and well-written! (And close to home, ouch)
    Jen C.


Note: Comments awaiting moderation may not appear for several hours or--if the kids and I fall asleep at the same time--at least a day. Thank you for your patience and please do not feel deterred; your feedback and insight are most welcomed!