Day one. A strange and new city. Waking up beside my new bride. Rushing off to my new career, which translated for the first year, working a minimum of twelve hour days, five or six days a week. Leaving her alone in a new city – actually on the outskirts of the new city – in a country setting bedroom community, with a ground level walk-out basement suite, with patio doors that opened up to rolling hills of orchards and birds and blue sky. But inside there was a mouse to contend with and a cat with an attitude who didn’t give a damn about the mouse, but instead sprayed most of our furniture.
We opted for the mouse over the cat.
I received a paycheck every two weeks. The first one just barely covered our rent. That left the second one to cover absolutely everything else. Which meant it didn’t. Consequently, I was supplementing our grocery bill whenever I could, by bringing home leftovers from the restaurant at the end of the night. This also meant that furnishing our home fell at the end of the list, meaning that our bed was a mattress on the floor.
A few months into marriage we asked both of our parents for some help. My wife’s parents responded by loading up their truck with groceries and driving out to our new home, filling our cupboards with their care packages. This was in spite of the fact that my wife’s father was struggling to get enough work to cover their own bills. My parents opted to send a book on how to manage your finances for young couples. This was in spite of the fact that they needed to get rid of last year’s models and styles of everything and replace it with the newest gizmos and gadgets.
However, my parents did then decide to purchase us a bed. My only instruction to them was that I did not want a foam bed, like they had. I was mistaken, apparently, as a brand new foam bed showed up at our house. We put it together and were thankful that we were now sleeping off of the floor, but when I woke up in the morning, and couldn’t move, and consequently could not get out of the bed, my thankfulness disappeared. Shortly afterwards we sold the mattress and used what we could of the bed to get by.
I have found this rhythm all throughout life when it comes to offering help to one another. Help is asked for and it seems to be responded to from a couple different perspectives. The first one is a literal response to the expressed need. An example of this is recently my wife’s mother called her to express her concern over my wife’s brother, who lives in the same city as us but suffers from mental illness. He was talking to their mom about how hungry he was and that he had nothing in his cupboards. Since she lives a couple provinces away she responded the next best way she knew how, which was to call her daughter with the instruction to go immediately to his home and fill his cupboards with canned food.
My reaction to that situation was a direct reflection of my parent’s, where I pointed out that within two city blocks of where he lives there are several service agencies that when all tolled, could provide him with three meals a day for free, for five days a week, with the food bank providing food to cover the weekends. I listed off all of these resources with a firm commitment to not go to his place and fill his cupboards.
I still feel firm in that decision. But which approach is the right one? Which form of help is actually helpful?
My wife would argue that the book that my parents gave us way back in the day was actually helpful, that there were some good points in it that equipped us to get a better grasp on our finances. She would also point out that we did get a bed from my parents and all we needed to do was to swap mattresses in order to find one that I could sleep on.
So which one was helpful? Is action alone helpful? Is it really helpful or is it simply to be seen to be doing something, while perhaps not entirely helpful, needs to be classified nonetheless as being helpful because at least it is something. This convoluted explanation of helpfulness is perhaps the most succinct way in which people’s helpfulness can be explained in general terms.
Is it really truly helpful when an individual or a group of people show up at a soup kitchen to serve a meal to those in need? When does it cross the threshold of being simply an action to actually becoming helpful? Is it repetition? Is it quality or quantity? Were my wife’s parents more helpful because they brought a couple bags of groceries or were my parent’s more helpful because they sent a book on financial management?
During the first ten years of our marriage there would be several times where our needs were met externally. Those times have formed an important base and life lesson for me. From a spiritual sense I can be reminded of God’s provision and care for us and from a more earthly sense I am reminded that help looks different, no matter how you look at it or try to define it. Further to that, I have concluded that helping is an action word and if it only starts from a place of needing to be seen to be doing something, that something, no matter what it may look like, will, in some weird way perhaps, almost always end up being helpful.