Because our house is on a large corner lot, we have quite a bit of sidewalk to shovel when it snows. Our neighborhood has a considerable amount of foot traffic, so it matters that the walkways are kept clear. All of this is fine. I don’t love shoveling, but I can do it. We even have a snowblower that sort of works.
Honestly, the hardest part about clearing my sidewalks is that my neighbors often do it for me. While I’m incredibly grateful, their generosity also makes me uncomfortable. Snow removal may be a small thing, but it’s made me think about how hard it can be to accept help.
I worry that their assistance is a judgment against me. Are they stepping in because I’m not doing the task well enough or quickly enough? Do they think I’m not capable?
I worry about getting on unequal footing. Are they expecting something in return? I don’t like feeling indebted to anyone. I diminish their generosity by trying to figure out how I can repay them, even if their gesture was simply an act of kindness.
Letting others help me, even when I don’t need it, reminds me that sometimes I do need help. This can brings up more fears. Where I am currently lacking? What capabilities might I lose in the future? What if there is no one there to help me when I really need it?
I tell myself that I struggle to accept my neighbors’ help because I don’t need it, but would it be easier if I actually did need their assistance? If I was physically unable to shovel my own sidewalks, would it suddenly be comfortable to let my neighbors clear them for me? Somehow, I doubt it.
As I think about my resistance to accepting help from others, I can see where I am setting a double standard. I’m often happy to lend a hand to someone else without expecting anything in return and without thinking less of them.
Helping others feels good. Doing something kind for another person strengthens my sense of connection with them. If someone is hesitant to accept my assistance, I’m quick to respond that this is what neighbors do. It’s part of being a friend or family. Giving and receiving is one of the beautiful ways we connect as people.
Maybe that’s why even something as simple as shoveling snow can feel vulnerable. It’s saying that we are part of this community together. I value that and am so grateful to be getting to know some of my neighbors. But there is a part of me that’s afraid—that wants to stay independent, private, and anonymous. If you’ve been here very long, you know that the tendency to hide is something I struggle with.
As much as I want to live in communities where people exchange kindnesses regardless of need or obligation, it can feel like a risk. If people help me, that means they see me. If they see me, they can reject me. If they perceive that I have needs, I might be more trouble than I’m worth.
I think many of us fear being a burden. Part of that is not wanting to add difficulty to the lives of those around us, but it also includes the fear that, if the burden becomes too heavy, others will walk away and we’ll be left alone.
This can lead us into the trap of believing the best way to serve people is to not have any needs of our own. But we all have needs. Sometimes letting others see our needs is one of the most helpful things we can do. It lets them know they are not alone. After all, who wants to share their struggles with someone who appears to have none?
Much of what I’ve written about today has been mundane chores, but I think our attitudes about giving and receiving carry over into deeper things.
If I believe that letting someone help with snow removal is a judgment against me, how will I be able to let anyone walk with me through fear or grief or difficult decisions?
If I believe that I should be able to do everything on my own, how will I find the support I need when I’m hurting?
If I refuse to accept the generosity of others, how can I expect them to believe I’m not offering help out of judgment or pity?
I was surprised by the strength of my discomfort at the small kindness of my neighbors shoveling my sidewalk. It’s made me think about other ways I try to do everything myself—withdrawing from others when I’m feeling down, trying to figure out the solution before mentioning a problem, and so on.
It can feel safer to avoid needing others, but this kind of independence can also be lonely. I’ve been thinking about what it looks like to give and receive help, whether needed or not, in a way that deepens our sense of connection and community instead of triggering fear and obligation. I’d love to know your thoughts.