Wise and Unwise Helpfulness

J.R. Miller


Helpfulness is the first impulse of a regenerated heart. As George MacDonald says, "When God comes to a man—man looks around for his neighbor." Charles Kingsley said, "We begin to be like God, only when we begin to be helpful." Holy Scripture also is full of exhortations to the same duty. We are to bear one another's burdens. The love that is commanded, is a love that gives and serves and shares. There is no question, therefore, as to the duty of helping others.

But there is a question as to how we should help people, and often it requires much wisdom to answer it. A kind heart is continually in danger of over-helping, or helping inopportunely, or in ways that will do harm rather than good.

It begins in homes. There are many parents who make life altogether too easy for their children. They do things for them that it would be very much better if the children were made to do for themselves. They teach them to depend on others, for many things that it would be well if they were required to do for themselves.

Probably the parents themselves owe much of their strength of character and their real success in life, to the fact that in their early days, they were compelled to endure hardness, to struggle and toil, to bear many burdens, and to practice rigid self-denial. In these experiences were forged out the noble qualities that now shine so brightly in their lives.

But in their parental home government they forget this secret of their own success, and shield their children from the very things that would make them truly great in character. Parents are often heard to say: "My children shall never struggle as I had to do in my youth. Thank God, I can save them from hardships, from the self-denials, the poverty, the wearisome toil which robbed my youth of its brightness." Very well; but they must be wise in their sheltering and their sparing, lest they dwarf the lives of those they love.

The same caution is needed in all our helping of others. Our kindness is ever likely to over-help, if we have the ability to do what we would for others. We feel that we should let no distress go unrelieved, if it is in our power to relieve it. We think, when we see a fellow creature struggling with any burden that seems too heavy for him, that we ought to immediately try to lighten it. We suppose that it is always our duty to make life easier for others if we can. Perhaps it may be so, but very likely it is not. We are in danger of meddling with God's discipline and training, if we are always trying to save people from every carrying of burdens.

We know that the divine way is not to carry men's loads for them. True, we are invited to cast our burden upon the Lord; but we are not told that he will lift it away from our shoulders. The promise is that he will sustain us as we go on bearing our burden. This suggests the secret of true helpfulness—not making life easy for

others, but inspiring and strengthening them for the doing of their hard things, the enduring of their stress and strain, and the bearing of their burdens.

Emerson puts it well when he says, "The chief need in life, is for somebody who shall make us do what we can." Our best friend is not he who does the most for us—but he who stimulates us to do the most for ourselves.

If we could learn this lesson, and be patient and brave enough to put it into practice, it would add greatly to our power for helping others. But it takes both patience and courage to do this. It is much easier for us in most cases, to do something for another, than to teach him to do it for himself. It is easier to do a child's school lessons for him, than to help him to learn how to do them, and then let him work them out himself.

When we find a person carrying a heavy load, it will usually cost us less thought and time, to give him the relief that he seems to need, than to put into his heart the cheer and courage necessary to enable him to be victorious in his stress. It takes more nerve, and firmness, too, to see men oppressed or distressed, and not to help them—than it does to follow our gentle impulses.

If we would wisely and truly help—we must behave to those around us, as Jesus would do if he were in our place. We must think of their best good—not of their present comfort. We must do the thing that will be the truest blessing to them. We should always be ready to give help, but we should well consider in what way the help shall be given. It is better to make a disheartened man strong and brave, that he may fight his own battle through to victory—than it is to fight his battle for him, leaving him still a faint-hearted and defeated man.

It is better to let a young man bear the yoke in his youth, nerving him to heroic struggle and endeavor, thus making him more a man, preparing him for yet greater victories and achievements in the future—than it is to pamper him, make life easy for him, and screen him from hard work—meanwhile keeping him soft-handed, and lacking in manly vigor and strength. We need wise thought as well as kindly feeling, to be a really good helper of others.