Little Miss Helpful

Nominative determinism doesn’t work with Little Miss Helpful; she wants to help but her support is generally unsolicited and misguided. (Whereas Mr Tickle tickles, Mr Happy always has a beaming smile and Little Miss Shy is timid.)

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Mr. Birthday and Little Miss Helpful

Sometimes I think we (and I mean specifically both followers of Jesus and those of us in the caring and charitable sectors) can be like Little Miss Helpful. There is a danger that our help causes more harm than good.

Sometimes this happens on a large scale such as the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (shout out to my genuinely helpful brother-in-law for bringing this to my attention). However, the next paragraph is a summary from a SlideShare by a humanitarian communications and innovation consultant.

Many people travelled to Haiti to help who had no experience and who couldn’t speak the language, they didn’t have the vital ‘back-room’ infrastructure or the basics needed (no accommodation, food, materials or transport), there was no long-term strategy and an influx of unwanted gifts-in-kind (basically junk that was dumped). Volunteers were unprepared: Luege gives examples of a woman arriving in unsuitable designer footwear and another volunteer who arrived without essentials such as soap, believing that such toiletries could be purchased at Port-au-Prince airport. People were recruited with the slogan ‘An Adventure Awaits you in Haiti!’. Aid was concentrated in camps rather than communities which meant that many families (even if they had a home) ‘lived’ in various camps in order to access services.

Often our desire to assist is so great that we don’t take the time to stop and ask what kind of aid would be most beneficial. The help becomes about us and our needs – whether that’s for approval, adventure, a desire to be wanted or a feel-good factor (a warm and fuzzy feeling inside because we’ve done something ‘good’).

It’s crucial we regularly check both our actions and our motivations whether we are helping an individual whom we know (personal gripe – don’t try and offer counselling if you’re not trained!) or we’re moved to help a particular cause, such as refugees or rough sleepers.

We need to determine if our actions are appropriate for the situation, preferably by asking experts in the specific area where we want to help. Are we genuinely helping or making the situation worse? Are we creating people who are dependent on us? Are we helping people live lives of dignity? Are we treating people as objects or ‘the other’? Do we have the necessary skills and experience?

The book Toxic Charity talks about the danger of short-term mission and gives the example of groups of young Christians who travel from the US to Mexico to paint various buildings. While they are painting, the local painters and decorators sit outside with nothing to do! It’s not as exciting to raise funds to pay indigenous tradespeople but in the long-term it’s more valuable to equip and build up others.

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It’s so important to be aware of our own personal drivers. We all have needs that are met through donating time or money, but it’s essential to grow in self-awareness so we know what they are – otherwise they will impede the good we want to do. When my service becomes about meeting my craving for approval, then it’s vital I take time to remember it’s not about me and to reflect on my identity as a child of God.

My identity is not ‘Little Miss Helpful’ but ‘Beloved Child of God’.

I don’t like musicals

Practising self-compassion (as opposed to perfectionism) is an act of courage. It is a decision to be authentically “you” in the light of great pressure to perform or conform. The Perfectionism Book

On seeing the romantic comedy Runaway Bride as a student, one of my friends gently remarked on a similarity between the main character, Maggie (played by Julia Roberts), and me. Maggie, the ‘runaway bride’, would morph into an extension of whichever man was her current fiance, even eating eggs the exact same way.

For a long time I didn’t really know who ‘I’ was. It was hard to be me when I didn’t have a firm sense of self or even know what I liked and what I didn’t. I was sometimes too scared to say what I thought or what I liked in case I was rejected.

So – just for fun, here are some things I like:

  • detective novels
  • walking around lakes
  • 80s pop music
  • dungarees
  • personalised items e.g. my mug with my name on it
  • looking forward to events, such as holidays

And some things I don’t like:

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  • musicals
  • walking up mountains
  • rum
  • mint chocolate ice cream
  • mixing different pasta shapes
  • very hot weather

It might seem strange to write how it once took courage for me to say what I liked and what I didn’t especially when it’s so easy now to state my preferences. I am secure and loved enough to be authentic about my likes and dislikes.

However, I did struggle when Small Boy was a baby with contradictory parenting books. In the end I decided that I couldn’t perform to the standards in the books, especially when they had opposing views! I gave up reading them, decided Small Boy was not Text-Book Baby, and realised that although I wasn’t a parenting expert, I was the expert on my child and his needs.

I am getting better at being authentic about my emotions. I recently shared in a baby massage group my experience of anxiety when pregnant (you can read about that time in Not drowning, but swimming). I explained how I was in a midwifery team set up for women who needed support with their mental health and how beneficial this was. I felt stronger not weaker for sharing my story and my struggle.

I’d rather live my life as an open flawed person than pretending to be perfect.

The muscle of gratitude

In a culture that actively works to provoke your dissatisfaction, developing the muscle of gratitude could be your most powerful means of freedom from perfectionism.‘ The Perfectionism Book

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As a family, we hold hands and pray before mealtimes thanking God for the food He has provided. For a while, Small Boy would exclaim ‘Let’s eat!’ rather than ‘Amen’; the short prayer was a necessary preliminary before the important task of  enjoying eating. I’ve come to see that my attitude isn’t all that different.

Often I can feel envious of other people’s blessings; I can quickly become dissatisfied, ungrateful and yearn for ‘more’, ‘bigger’ and ‘better’.

My gratitude muscle clearly needs a work-out but how to get in shape? My exercise routine will start with:

  • Deliberately pausing before each meal to spend a moment saying ‘thank you’ regardless of how busy or hungry I am.
  • Writing in a ‘thankfulness book’ each evening at least one thing that day for which I am grateful.
  • Fostering an attitude of gratitude in all I do: from washing up to tidying away toys to going to the dentist.
  • Being thankful for who I am even though this does not come naturally.

Jennifer Kunst in her article ‘The antidote to envy‘ writes: ‘It is everyone’s challenge in life to do something with whatever they have, and the best way to do that is to see the good, be thankful for it, and do something useful with it.’

The journey out of perfectionism starts with a gentle acceptance of who I am and where I’ve been; to be at peace with my past, to come to terms with my weaknesses, and to recognise God’s fingerprints of grace in every stage and season. Thankfulness is at the heart of this self-acceptance.

A few years ago, there was a brief social media trend to establish your position in the global rich list. According to www.globalrichlist.com, I am in the top 0.42% richest people in the world by income. I have no justification to complain and every reason to be thankful – and my gratitude should lead to generosity. 

But what about when life is hard? In all honesty, it’s not that difficult for me to be grateful at the moment but I want to be someone who is marked by gratitude in every circumstance. Last week, I attended a memorial service of a 50-year-old Christian lady who had died of cancer. She’d written a letter to be read at the service in which she described some of the ‘God-incidences’ during her illness; she had learnt to look for ‘God in action’ even during times of great pain and suffering. My hope is to become someone who can see and be grateful for the ‘God-incidences’ in every stage of life, just as this inspirational lady did.

Right now, I am thankful for Lemsip, Calpol vapour plug-ins and grandparents who are willing to change plans to help.

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