by Eddie Pipkin

Image by Yerson Retamal from Pixabay

My mother-in-law passed away in early December, and my wife and her brother found themselves in that scenario in which we all inevitably find ourselves: overwhelmed by grief by obligated to work out the complex logistics of funeral arrangements.  My mother-in-law, God bless her, was an organized and thoughtful lady who was not the least bit afraid about going to meet Jesus, so she had planned out exactly what she wanted to have happen during her ‘going home’ celebration (which is always a comfort to the bereaved).  Also, the family had a favored funeral services provider in the little town that has formed the hub of much of their lives.  The entrepreneur who runs this family-handed-down business was compassionate, knowledgeable, and professional . . . except for a couple of instances in which he wasn’t.  And those small moments were a testament to the dangers of “trying to do everything yourself.”

The funeral service itself was lovely, and the guy in charge of the operation—we’ll call him Bud (not his real name)—was an exemplar of good-humored empathy and compassion.  I got an indication early on in the process, however, that he probably had more on his plate than was strictly healthy or practical.  The family delegated the job to me of delivering the folder of pictures for the photographic slide show that would be playing during the visitation.  It was in the middle of a weekday afternoon when I drove up to the funeral home, but the business office entrance was locked, and nobody appeared when I rang the doorbell.  Bud had told my wife he would there all afternoon, so I walked around the corner of the building to a parking lot where I had noticed some guys working on a hearse.  I said, “Hey guys, I’m looking for Bud.  Do you know where I might find him?”  A middle-aged fellow in shorts and a t-shirt propelled himself out from beneath the vehicle’s chassis on one of those mechanic’s rolling creepers.  “Yeah, I’m Bud,” he said.  “What can I do for ya?”

We walked into the office, and during that brief exchange he made a point of bragging about his status as a one-man-band-do-it-all-on-your-own small business owner.  Aside from being a hearse mechanic, he was the chief mortician, head makeup artist, floral arranger, video director, printed program designer, custodian, Costco shopper, backhoe driver, and comforter-in-chief.  It was an impressive resume.  And I will reiterate, for the things that mattered most to my wife and her family, he did do a fine job.

But plenty of little things fell through the cracks.  He had to be reminded several times to follow up on items on which he had promised to follow up (which he faithfully did, once prompted).  Just to give an example: when my wife picked up the final funeral home packet, which included the guest book, memory book, and miscellaneous other materials, there were names of the deceased grandparents that were printed incorrectly.  There were custom printed thank-you cards included, which could only have been used for this single occasion, but which had now arrived weeks after the funeral, well after the family had sent out acknowledgement notes.

Little things.  But they added up to just enough to plant a seed in my wife’s mind that maybe for the next funeral she will suggest trying a different provider.

And they were avoidable little things.  This is the problem with the do-it-all-yourself leader.  These leaders are a whirlwind of impressive activity; they are also martyrs to “having to do it all themselves.”  And in that scenario, no matter how talented, gifted, or energetic the person in charge is, mistakes will inevitably happen.

Shaunak Upadhya, writing on LinkedIn, details the problems that an entrepreneur faces if they take on too much without help:

We all know that taking on too much results in stress and most of the time, poor performance, yet we still do it. Our brains are absolutely magnificent but they come with their limitations too. There is a limit to how much our brain can process which in turn, affects the performance of our brain.

He makes the point that it’s a direct path to not just mental stress and miscalculation, but to physical stress, as well.  We burn out; we miss things; relationships get damaged as a result (personal, professional, and ministry relationships).

Ministry people are some of the worst about practicing this “do it yourself syndrome.”  Perhaps it’s our confidence in our talents and creative gifts.  Perhaps it’s our sacred calling to mission and the need to be heroic in our pursuits, comparing ourselves to all those legendary biblical protagonists, who seemed to be “all in all the time.”

An article called, straightforwardly, “How to Ask for Help,” introduces the concept of forthrightly seeking assistance instead of playing the do-it-all hero.  It begins with this poignant paragraph:

Asking people for help makes calling out to the Lord seem easy by comparison. The Lord already knows we are weak and needy, but other people? That is a different story. They may not know, and we desperately want to appear competent before them. Even though spiritual neediness is one of the most attractive acts of a human being, we have our own views of strength, honor, and what is most becoming, and pleas for help are not on that list.

But it really should be simple.

Waaaaait a minute!  That article is about asking for supportive prayer from other people.  We should definitely be doing this.  Absolutely—it will make a huge difference if we’re not doing it already.  But asking real live human beings for practical, hands-on help—although that should also always be a simple and straightforward process—can be surprisingly difficult.  And even when we work up the courage to ask, even when that help is sometimes promised, it can be disappointing in execution.

That doesn’t mean we should short-circuit the process before it ever gets started!  Even imperfect help can be better than no help.  And the process of seeking help can have many beneficial spin-off effects.

One of my son’s favorite phrases is the tried-and-true “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work.”  That’s also the theme of this overview from Sarah Kristenson at the Happier Human website on the biblically mandated impact of people working together to achieve a common purpose:

As they say in sports, “There is no I in team.”  This reminds us that the things we are trying to achieve are often bigger than ourselves.  In addition, one person cannot do it all.  It takes every member doing their part and playing their role to succeed.  Teamwork brings people together, and to get things done, they must rely on one another.

These are basic concepts.  We too frequently undermine them at our own peril because:

  • We want to hoard the vision (and the credit) to ourselves.
  • We think we can, in fact, do it all, because we are just that awesome. (That’s called hubris, and in the literary world and the real world, it does not usually end well.)
  • We think that we can do it better than anybody else—and to delegate or share responsibilities means we will be sacrificing quality.
  • We don’t want the hassle of dealing with other people, having to rely on other people (be vulnerable to other people, have to depend on other people).

It’s a sad attitude to take because, although it can be more work to develop and trust a team, so many beautiful things happen when we do get other people involved:

  • We can do more than we could ever do alone.
  • We expand our territory to do different kinds of things than we could ever do alone (because different people with different perspectives bring their views and experiences into the mix).
  • We empower other people to find their gifts and talents and callings.
  • We are freed from the things at which we do not excel, so we can concentrate more fully on the things for which we are truly gifted and the tasks to which we are truly called.

For a small business person there are special challenges when it comes to expanding one’s circle of helpers.  People generally aren’t going to work for your business for free.  But constraints of funding or personnel (endemically reported throughout the ministry world) can be overcome, and the seeds for overcoming these challenges are lying dormant and ready to bloom right in the nub of the problem itself.  People connected to ministry are generous people who want to be involved in making the magic happen—it’s why they are there in the first place!  By asking for help, we are empowering them to do the very thing they most desire to do: Be engaged in a greater vision with purpose.

By the way, this same hopeful logic applies when we are individuals asking for help among our circle of friends and loved ones.  The teamwork of friendship and family is also a powerful and sacred force.  Relationships are grown and deepened through our compassionate dedication to aiding one another, sharing one another’s burdens, and together celebrating perseverance over tough times.

So, how about you (professionally and personally)?  How are you doing at asking for help when help is needed?  Are you trying to run the shop all on your lonesome, and making unfortunate and predictable mistakes along the way?  Or are you part of a team—you helping others when they need it, and others helping you when you have bravely used your words, making yourself vulnverable, and giving them the chance to keep you going and successfully on task?  After all, we get by with a little help from our friends.

Share your stories in the comments section.