The last time I said the words “help me” and meant them, I was face down on the side of a mountain with a cracked helmet and a twisted ankle. The words tasted like dirt and blood and shame, and I hated saying them. Help meant I couldn’t go on. Help meant a ruined day and a defeated bike ride. Help meant helplessness.
My friends had to peel my bike and body off the side of the trail and haul both back down the mountain. Incapacitated as I was, I spent the next two months as a camp counselor, hobbling along on crutches as I herded groups of preteens up and down the rugged hills of the lower Klamath. This, of course, meant I frequently ended up face down, back in the dirt, forcing the same words out through gritted teeth: “Help me.”
Help almost feels like an antiquated word in our culture today. It’s the vocabulary of damsels in distress and the naive masses in old superhero movies. In our self-sufficient society, the word has been relegated to the world of computer troubleshooting and self-help books— a watered down term for whatever we find to guide ourselves through challenges.
Unfortunately, my faith tends to follow suit. The temptation is to lump Jesus into this category— just another option to reference when we find ourselves in need of solutions.
The trouble then becomes if we find ourselves, as I did that summer at camp, very much in need of real help. Our shallow definition of help collapses when we’re confronted with a need beyond our own capacity to meet. We fall, and despite our best intentions, none of the tools in our self-help arsenal can pick us back up.
The gospel of Mark features a father who comes to Jesus in a very similar pursuit. He approaches seeking healing for his son, and asks, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).
Jesus, however, refuses to accept the man’s half-hearted request at face value. He cuts straight to the heart of it all and challenges the man to step out in faith. His invitation— “All things are possible to him who believes”— makes clear the conditions of Jesus’s true, life-changing help.
True, authentic help requires humility and the acceptance of our own limitations. It requires us to swallow our pride and self-sufficiency and to trust in the provision of something beyond our control. That summer at camp, my inability to walk and function on crutches without relying on the people around me drove this point home for the first time. And despite how counter-cultural and uncomfortable it feels, we all will reach this point when it becomes clear that real help is our only option.
In the face of our own inadequacy, we have the opportunity, as the man in our story did, to confront our desperation and helplessness and lay them at the feet of him who provides “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”
In those times, we can join the man’s cry, with full confidence that Jesus will meet us in our need: “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
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