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The Curse of the Capable

I don't want to be a bitter person. But something happened a few years ago that still irks me.

After giving birth to my third child, I came home with her from the hospital on a Wednesday. Thursday night—or rather Friday morning at 2:00 A.M.—my husband returned to the hospital with our then four-year-old son, Isaac. Earlier that day, Isaac had already been to urgent care because of difficulty breathing. But the doctor had merely diagnosed him with a mild case of asthma and recommended we follow up with our regular doctor soon. Instead, Isaac ended up in the ER, then in the hospital, with a wicked bout of pneumonia.

So there we were: one new baby, one child in the hospital, and one kid wondering how she could get a little attention. Clearly, we were a bit stressed.I'd like to say we had numerous friends rally around to provide some meals and offer to baby-sit while I visited my son in the hospital, but I can't. And that bugs me to this day.

But I think I know what went wrong. My husband and I are too strong. We're the people who help, who support, who nurture. When we know someone's in need, we try to assist them. And we rarely let on that we have needs of our own.

This is the curse of the capable. Those of us considered dependable, stable, and strong tend to present such a good show that no one can see when we actually need help. Maybe we don't even let ourselves see when we need help.

Recently, I've had some conversations with a friend who appears, like me, to have everything together—strong marriage, lovely children, thriving career. Yet we both feel we're sinking in the muck of anxiety and depression. And because we've bought into our own myths of perfection so completely, we've been taken aback by the loneliness and isolation false perfection brings.

Admitting need is difficult, especially for those of us who work hard to meet others' needs. We're the busy worker bee, the ever-understanding mother, the constant shoulder for friends' tears, the calm cover in a stormy marriage. But being strong doesn't mean never needing anything. And there's no perfect-woman handbook that instructs us to suck it up and just keep smiling.

In fact, we women can find true strength in embracing who we are—even when who we are is tired or weak or needy. These aren't sins. They aren't personality flaws. They aren't signs of failure. Christ himself felt so tired, weak, and overwhelmed that he pulled away from crowds and spent time alone (Luke 6:12, John 6:15). And during his visit to Mary and Martha's home, he complimented Mary for having "chosen what is better" (Luke 10:41) when she recognized, as author Brennan Manning points out, that Jesus needed rest. He needed time with people who'd let him be tired and weak for a bit.

Jesus wasn't somehow less strong because he allowed others to see him in a time of need. In fact, Jesus might very well have been stronger because he lived in authentic relationships with his friends. His vulnerability and honesty were essential in forging genuine connections with the people he loved.

I'm slowly learning God created us to love, not to impress, each other. And I do my friends a disservice when I don't let them show me the love I try to give them. So I've started asking for help when I need it rather than secretly hoping someone will read my mind in times of stress. And whether gathering a crew to join me in cleaning the kitchen after small group or inviting some girlfriends out for dinner when I'm desperate for adult conversation, I'm finding good friends rarely turn me down.

What about you? Are you comfortable revealing neediness? How have you asked for help when you've needed it? In what ways has a willingness to show weakness made you stronger?

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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