Can I Help You?

I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression, “You can’t help those who won’t help themselves.” But I wonder… can’t we? Does this mean we don’t even try? And I’ve got to ask myself, “Have I ever used this old adage as an excuse to not help?” The hard truth—yes, at times, I have. Have you? Be honest, it’s just you and me here. While there may be some truth in this statement, I don’t know that it’s entirely true. Besides, if someone is willing to help themselves, why would they need help from anyone else anyway? There’s no clear, black, or white answer here because everyone is different, and every circumstance is different. The answer lies in the gray zone.

Photo Credit: Gabor Kulcsar

The Gray Zone 

Here’s where it gets tricky. In this gray zone, if I won’t help myself, it infers that I don’t want the help. But is this always true? In the Gospel of John, we read about a man who was an invalid for thirty-eight years. He was hanging out in a well-known location where a whole lot of other sick people hung out, at the Pool of Bethesda just waiting for their opportunity to be the first one in the pool so they could receive healing after the water’s stirred miraculously— which only happened once a year (John 5:1-5). Jesus comes by and asks the invalid, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6b NIV) I always thought this was an interesting question because, well, the man was lying beside a healing pool for thirty-eight years…the answer should be obvious, but Jesus asked anyway. (By the way, everything Jesus did and said was always purposeful and intentional, he’s not just making conversation here). Let’s read on. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (John 5:7 NIV) He doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question here, does he? He provides an excuse. It seems like he wanted to help himself to some degree because he says, “While I try to get in…” but he began the excuse with, “I have no one to help…”  One would think that at some point in thirty-eight years he could have made it into that pool. Had he stopped trying to help himself?

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It Seems A Ridiculous Question 

“Do you want to get well?” It causes me to think about people enslaved to addiction as my mother was to drugs and alcohol, eventually losing her life to it. Does anyone want to live a life controlled by an addiction? Does anyone want to live a life trapped in an abusive, toxic relationship? Does anyone want to live a life ruled by fear, anxiety, or depression? Don’t they want to get well? Then, they should help themselves, right? I mean, if they won’t, then how can we help them? After all, you can’t help those who won’t help themselves. Right? Or I wonder if the saying should be more like, “You can’t help those who won’t acknowledge they need help.” The invalid in our story acknowledged he needed the help, “I have no one to help me…”  but I wonder if after thirty-eight years, he wouldn’t help himself anymore. Someone always made it into the pool before him, so why keep trying? But does it mean he couldn’t be helped?

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We Gotta Try 

Jesus responds to the invalid, but he doesn’t say, “Well, pal, sorry about your luck. If you won’t help you, I won’t help you.” No. Here’s what happened after the man evades Jesus’ question with an excuse, “Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8 NIV) Jesus helped but not as the man likely expected, as Jesus did not put him in the pool. I am challenged by this. Who have I walked by (figuratively) that needed help, wanted help but seemed like they didn’t because this narrative plays in my mind; “Well, you can’t help those who won’t help themselves.”? Who have you passed by? Is there someone that you might ask, “Do you want to get well and how can I help?” Through this past year, people more than ever need a loving, compassionate arm reached out to them. Don’t let fear of someone rejecting your help, or the potential absence of a miraculous recovery stop you. While the invalid did get up and walk away after Jesus told him to, those we reach out to may take a while longer in recovery. With the understanding that we are not Jesus and cannot miraculously “fix” anyone or solve their problems, nor should we even attempt that but rather we are to be the extension of love and compassion, to be there for another in their time of need regardless of their answer. Even if you’re not sure how to help, there’s always an opportunity to sow a bit of encouragement into someone’s life whether they acknowledge they need help or not. Let me add this; Love has got to be your motive. If love is not the motive, the “help” you’re offering, most likely won’t help. Driven by compassion and mercy, we are more likely to actually reach those we long to aid. 

Photo Credit: Nikko Macaspac

Sometimes It’s True 

There are those who may never acknowledge they need help. They may be trapped in situations they see no way out of, so they quit trying, given up on hope. They may realize they need help but refuse your offer. Or you’ve tried to help, they seemed like they were doing better then they slide back into the pit. So, what do you do then? There is no clear-cut answer to that. As I said before, each person and your relationship with them, as well as the circumstance is unique and cannot be covered with a one-size-fits-all blanketed answer. What I do know is that every life is valuable, every day is precious, every moment is one worth treasuring. We are all in need of help in some way so our first step is to acknowledge that and let’s change the mantra of a mindset that we can’t help others who won’t help themselves. At the very least we could ask, “Do you want to get well?” and be a loving support. Easy? No. But then anything in life that is worthwhile, isn’t easy. So let me encourage you today to reach out to someone or maybe you are the one who needs to acknowledge you need help. Either way, don’t waste another moment as each one is to be treasured!    

Photo Credit: Roberto Nickson


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Domestic Violence Support 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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