“You only have one fish?” my friend asked in surprise as he watched our pet goldfish swim frantic laps around the fish bowl. “This is not good. We think you always need two, otherwise the one fish will only think about dying all the time.”
This quote is so perfectly indicative of the Chinese communal mindset. I’m not referring to communism as a government policy, but the idea that life is better when lived together. Chinese people know how to connect and realize that life is more fun, interesting and beneficial if done side by side. As I watch my Chinese friends live out their lives in front of me, I constantly see them using their connections to do everything from find a doctor to moving to visiting a new city for fun. It’s actually quite amazing. They know that connecting brings mutual benefit. Even though some people, like my fish, can live happily alone, I think we all do better when we do it together. But, those of us from independent cultures (America in my case) sometimes just don’t know how to connect with people around us and don’t realize how vital it is to our survival in this new land we’ve settled in (wherever that may be).
When I think about times I’ve really connected with someone, there seems to be a common denominator. Either I needed their help, or they needed mine. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this cross-cultural life I’m currently leading, it’s that we have to be willing to ask others for help. I know that sounds simple, but getting down to the nitty gritty of it can be really hard.
Any time I need to specifically ask someone to help me (like something that will actually cost someone something…not just “hey…will you hold the door open so I can push the stroller outside?”) I hear a little voice in my head say “You don’t need help! Just figure out a way to get it done on your own.”
And, sometimes I’ve listened to that voice and gone the independent route and ended up wishing I’d have involved someone else in my scenario. The times I’ve put aside my pride and said “Hey! Can you help me? I really need you right now” amazing things have happened, friendships have blossomed, memories have been made.
Life overseas can put a perfectly capable person in such an awkward and helpless state because they simply have no idea how to do anything in their new environment. My first months in China, I felt like a kangaroo who had been scooped up and dropped into a penguin colony in Antarctica (can you relate? are you there now?) You would not even believe the things I needed help with on a daily basis! My ridiculous concerns in my new world were never-ending:
“I’m stuck in my apartment because I don’t know how to operate my door.”
“How do I order a new jug of drinking water?”
“I can’t carry all these groceries by myself even though I just bought them and need them all.”
“I don’t know how to ride a city bus.”
“I’m sick and I miss my mom and I need soup.”
“I lost my keys and I just need someone to help me find them…I know they’re here somewhere!”
“I don’t know which milk to buy and I’m freaked out because it’s in a box on the shelf and it’s not cold.”
“I bought what I thought was flour but it’s actually corn meal but it looks like flour and I’m so confused.”
I’ve seen lots of people come and go. The ones who are able to successfully integrate into a new community on the other side of the world are those who ask for help. I’ve seen the self sufficient ones…the ones who refuse to ask and instead unknowingly wash their clothes on the spin cycle with fabric softener instead of detergent because they can’t read the washing machine dials or soap labels and wash their hair with conditioner instead of shampoo because they guessed wrong again at the grocery store. They do fine. They get by. But, I think they miss a huge opportunity to connect with others by being self sufficient.
Some of us (sometimes me included) would rather die a slow, lonely death than seem ignorant and ask a “dumb” question. If you fall in this category, I challenge you to make the effort to let someone else in. Let someone help you (and look at it as serving them by allowing them to help you if that makes you feel better). It might not be convenient or comfortable, but it might be just what you need–a chance to connect, to share and experience, to let your guard down and find a friend.
Maybe, like present me, you’ve been here a while (wherever “here” may be) and find yourself on the other side of this ordeal. By the 15th knock at the door before 10 am I’m tempted to get frustrated with helping. I like to welcome new people and help them adjust to their new normal, but, if I’m not mindful and intentional, I can feel drained by doing it yet again. I get worried there’s not enough time, money, wisdom or grace left for others. Then, I remember that connection comes with a price tag. It will cost me something, however, it will be worth it. Once I get over myself and decide to do life relationally instead of independently, I’ll reap the harvest of deeper friendships and more meaningful relationships. In helping, I’m forced to stop paying so much attention to me and my affairs and start paying attention to others while depending on Jesus to be more than enough in every situation.
ASK. OFFER. CONNECT.
What might you need to ask someone this week? Where could you use help that might lead to connection?
Maybe you want to think about letting a small group of encouraging ladies into your life via Velvet Ashes Connections Groups. Registration opens Tuesday 6pmEST!