My husband and I take part in a cooking team that makes meals for the Sunday service at our church. We only do it once a month, and it’s admittedly a lot of fun. But it’s also 4+ hours of hard work prepping, cooking, cleaning, setting up, serving, tearing down, cleaning more… You get the picture.
Our team consists of four members with random help on the side. But mostly, our group of four is responsible for seeing things through. We each took on a job to get the meal – nachos – done. I decided to take on the cheese sauce. And since I would be at the stove anyway, I’d take on browning the turkey too.
More than once, I was asked if I needed help. And every time I insisted I was fine. I was determined to get it done, to prove I could do it all.
I set about the kitchen, running back and forth to get the meat into the pan while the butter melted for the cheese sauce. I got the rue going, and then began adding milk. Then I rushed back to the meat to make sure it wasn’t burning. I finished adding the milk to the rue and stirred it.
And then I smelled it. Burnt.
Thing is, if I had asked for help, none of that would have happened. I had to bite back my pride and admit that the sauce was ruined. There was no more butter, so one of the guys had to go to the store to get some more. And when he came back, I asked him if he could be in charge of the sauce while I focused on the meat.
The story would be fine ending there. But it doesn’t.
After handing off the cheese sauce, my only job was to stir the two pans of meat in front of me. I could handle this, I got this. My pride was terribly wounded from the cheese sauce fiasco, but I was determined to get the meat cooking right. So when one of the girls came up to see if I could use some help, I told her NO. She started stirring one of the pans anyway.
“But this is my job,” I protested, as if I were a 5 year old guarding my mountain of blocks.
“But my job is done,” she cheerfully replied. So we stood together, all three of us surrounding this stove to finish cooking everything up. At first I was terribly bothered. It was too crowded. And she was probably stepping in so I couldn’t screw this up too. I felt tied up in knots inside. But then, I decided to let it go. I took a deep breath and let it out. And then we all chatted the rest of the time. It was actually fun.
The meal was done, and we set it out to serve it. I stayed with the turkey while my husband poured the cheese sauce. The other guy offered to take over for me so I could eat, but I told him I was fine. When the line dispersed, I got my own plate. Then I served the stragglers in between bites.
Once everyone had eaten, it was time to start bagging things up. We all started putting things away. The cheese sauce had a ton leftover, so I started pouring it in bags so people could take some home. It was a messy job, and by the fifth bag I was beginning to wonder if it would ever be over.
“Here, I’ll hold this for you,” the girl said to me.
“I got it,” I said.
This time she didn’t fight me. And I saw myself in her eyes as she gave up and walked away.
What is wrong with me? I hate that I do this! The truth is, I can always use some help! I can’t do it on my own! And there’s nothing wrong with working together to get things done.
It might just be my single-mother syndrome. I spent all those years actually doing things on my own, and taking pride in that. Before that, I hadn’t been able to do anything on my own at all. I depended on everyone. But when I got on my feet and was able to provide for my kids without a husband, without my parents, without state money…it just felt good.
But now? Now I’ve got this chip in my shoulder that has me believing that accepting help is a sign of weakness, when it’s totally the opposite of that. There are strength in numbers. And we are here on this planet to build each other up.
I didn’t like that person I was on Sunday. I’m embarrassed at the way I acted. But maybe it needed to happen to drive the lesson home that it’s okay to receive help. We can all use help. It gets things done faster, and it builds connections.
I think this is going to be a hard lesson to forget.
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