Robbing the joy from others

A couple of weeks ago, someone asked for my help. It was a trivial thing, but this person’s attitude (although I should say my inability to see beyond her attitude) made me really resent the request. The context was interesting: I was at church, helping with putting things together before the service, and it was during Holy Week, so exactly during the period of the year when one is intensively reminded of one’s responsibility for the good of one’s neighbor. Nevertheless, I resented her request. It was accompanied by a question, “do you have a job?” and I felt as if the person has judged me and has deemed that I have nothing better to do than helping her.

Of course, I think it was a blessing–at an important time, I was reminded of my pride, my weakness, and my inability to deny myself before the need of another. All these things are true, but I will not discuss them here. But this notion of “requesting for help” is interesting. For, regardless of the fact that I was wrong, I felt that the request robbed me of the joy of helping another. I could no longer do it in freedom, but rather under the moral obligation that someone else has placed on me.

What does it mean? When I ask someone for help, a couple other things seem to take place at the same time: I create a moral obligation on him and I place my need at the center of the relationship, without perceiving his own need for help (that is, his own state of weakness). Regardless of whether he feels or not that he is constrained (he needs to make a choice), I have created a disturbance, a situation that implies some sort of transaction: someone responds to a moral call. 

It is possible, however, that the other person does not perceive the situation morally; if he is strong enough (as I am not), he would not even consider the attack that I am bringing upon him, but he would rather only perceive the need that is manifested in me. He would thus respond by placing me first. Nevertheless, his inability (good inability) to perceive that I act egoistically does not diminish my action. I still steal from him, even if he does not perceive that he is robbed.  

Imagine now this situation: someone tells you that you never ask for help, and that she can never know what to do for you. So it sounds as if you need to ask for help out of obligation. Such a person wants to be asked for help because she wants to be placed in a moral situation. The reason why she does this is not interesting here; it may stem from the ego. Something along these lines: I need to help. I want to feel useful. I want to be placed in a moral situation so that I can respond morally. If you do not ask for help, I cannot be moral.

In any case, it seems that, regardless whether I ask for help or not, the situation seems to become problematic. If I ask, I place someone else in a moral situation, if I do not, I am requested to create a moral obligation. My reaction to the example with which I began this text had something to do with my refusal to accept such a moral situation. 

Is it possible, however, to act beyond morality in such cases? Is it possible to not feel robbed of joy? I have already suggested that if I feel robbed, I make evident my own lack of presence, state from which I do not perceive the suffering of the other. On the other hand (and actually as a consequence of the first point), it probably is the case that the other, in his or her suffering, cannot see the cry for help that my presence already is.

It does not mean that we should avoid asking for help. After all, prayer is, to an extent, also a cry: we pray to our guardian angels, to the saints, to the Mother of the Lord, to the Lord Himself–all these are cries for help. Should we avoid doing it? Do we place on them a responsibility that is not theirs and so, we take them out of their freedom?

Of course not, but this is because they are already in the Kingdom. They already embrace us. They already are in a space of freedom that goes beyond all morality. Our cry for help is, in this case, the path toward accessing the love which is already given, regardless of whether we deserve it or not (so regardless of morality).

After all, our human existence is a cry for help. Our presence in meekness is already a cry for help: it is the acknowledgement that we cannot do everything on our own; the acknowledgement of our sickness.


There is one prayer of thanksgiving after the Holy Communion that always gets to me. It begins this way:

Most holy Lady, Mother of God, light of my darkened soul, my hope, my protection, my refuge, my comfort and my joy, I am grateful that you have enabled me, unworthy as I am, to partake of the most pure Body and precious Blood of Your Son.

I pray for help to a mother whose son is on the cross for me. And I thank her for enabling me to partake of His flesh. The degree of my weakness…


About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
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