Know when to ask for help. Often.
When young students ask me for career advice, I always begin my reply by saying that they should not be bashful about asking for help.
When someone asks for my help, I am flattered—gratified that this person thinks my opinion, or my recommendation, is valuable. I’m that much more likely to think favorably of him. (After all he must be a fine, discerning young man if he thinks that my opinion is valuable!) And if I recommend someone for a job or a scholarship, then I am anxious to see him land that job or scholarship. I want my recommendation to be followed; the application becomes a test of my influence. What was once his ambition has now become, at least in part, my ambition as well. We’re in this together.
My attitude here is far from unique, I assure the students. There’s a fundamental truth about human nature at work. We all like to help people. We like to be able to help, and we like to be asked to help. (Politely, of course; just the hint of a sense of entitlement is enough to spoil the effect.) When the student we recommended wins the fellowship, we’re ready to celebrate with him. If he goes on to great things, we can claim some share of the credit for advancing his illustrious career.
The same principle works in the spiritual life, doesn’t it? We have friends who, on various occasions, have asked for prayers because of family crises. Those crises pass, but having developed the habit, I find myself still praying for them, and thinking of them as closer friends. The bonds of prayer strengthen previous ties.
And if I pray with people on any regular basis, I find myself thinking of them, too, as close friends. We see the same faces at Mass every day. I barely know some of these people. If we do exchange a few words occasionally, on the way out of the chapel, it is usually a quick discussion of the weather. Yet I care about these people, and I know they care about me. If we do bump into each other unexpectedly at the grocery store or the post office, we’re delighted. And why shouldn’t we be? We share the most important moment of the day together; that’s certainly enough to form a bond.
Year ago, at our parish in Washingon, DC, the Prayers of the Faithful each Sunday would include a mention of the sick, including someone named Kathy H. I never met Kathy H; I knew absolutely nothing about her, except that she was listed among the sick, week after week, month after month. I imagined that she was elderly, possibly a shut-in, likely struggling with some terminal illness. Then came a Sunday when her name was not listed in the Prayers of the Faithful. I leapt to the conclusion that Kathy H had died, and I found myself grieving—for this woman I never knew. (This odd story has a happy ending; the next Sunday her name was back on the list; it had been omitted inadvertently. Kathy H was still alive, still in need of prayers. And I was happy to oblige.)
A final thought: When someone asks for our prayers, that person does us a service, by giving us another reason to pray: something which we should all do more often and more earnestly.
Prayer brings us together, in ways that we do not fully anticipate or understand. So I conclude that we should all be asking for prayers more often.
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