Asking for Support: Getting the Help You Need
by Dale & Juanita Ryan
The God of the Bible is a God who saves and heals. The Bible is clear about this:
"He will deliver the needy who cry out, he will rescue them from oppression and
violence." (Psalm 72: 12 &14) When we see our need, acknowledge our inability to
save ourselves, and cry out, God delivers us. God rescues us from oppression and violence.
Whether it is the oppression and violence of our compulsions and addictions or the
oppression and violence of abuse and neglect, God delivers us and heals us. God is
powerful enough and loving enough to deliver us from all of the oppression and violence we
This is the good news proclaimed in Scripture. And it is the basis for our hope on the
recovery journey. We cannot save ourselves. Or heal ourselves. But God can. And God will.
Sound simple? It turns out to be anything but simple. There are several reasons for this.
First, we find it hard to believe that God is powerful enough to help us. Or that God
loves us enough to help us. And, secondly, we experience terrible shame about our need. We
don't want to bother God, or his people, with our neediness. And, thirdly, we find it
difficult to believe there is help available. We have had to 'go it alone' for so long
that having help may seem 'too good to be true.' As a result of our fears and shame and
isolation, we often find it extremely difficult to do seemingly simple tasks like asking
The purpose of this article is to review five basic truths about asking for help:
It's okay to need help and to ask for help
Most of us have received a life-time of messages which suggest that it is not okay to need
help or to ask for help. On a cultural level, we live in a society that values
individualism and self containment and which shames interdependence and need. On a more
personal level, if basic emotional or psychological needs were not met in childhood, we
may have learned that having such needs is a bad or shameful thing. This combination of
cultural messages and family messages can leave us believing that we must be strong,
independent and self-reliant in order to gain love and approval. When we believe this, we
have a powerful motivation to hide our weakness and need - often even from ourselves. As a
result, finding the courage to expose our need and to ask for help can be a difficult
God has a very different perspective about what it means for us to have needs. Doing great
things for God is not the heart of the spiritual life. It is not leaping tall buildings in
a single bound, not flying faster than a speeding bullet that attracts God's blessing. It
is, rather, coming to the end our own resources - it is recognizing our need and asking
for help - that is the beginning and foundation of the Christian life. The biblical text
is clear about the spiritual meaning of our weakness. God's strength is made perfect in
our weakness. This is no mere Hallmark one-liner. It is one of the foundations for all
spiritual growth. If we insist on navigating our spiritual life within the relative safety
of our gifts and strengths, we will stay in the shallows. It is only when we launch out
into waters far deeper and more treacherous than our own resources can handle that we will
encounter God's strength and provision. It is when we lean into our weakness rather than
running from it, that we experience things unimaginable in the safety of our comfort
Jesus put it simply and unmistakably. "If you are well," he said, "you
don't need a Physician." Jesus was saying that until we acknowledge our need and ask
for help, God cannot help us. Rather than saying it's okay to need help and to ask for it,
it would be more accurate to say that it is essential that we acknowledge our need and ask
for help. It is essential because until we do so we shut God out. It is essential to
acknowledge our need for help because that is what's real. It is what is honest. Anything
short of this is self deceit and pretense - from which no healing can come. Any attempts
to save ourselves or heal ourselves by ourselves are attempts at playing God. What is true
is that we need help. We need God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. To
acknowledge this is simply to tell the truth. And when we acknowledge the truth, we open
the way for God to respond.
Contrary to all of our instincts, then, the neediness which can be so terrifying to us is,
in reality, the opportunity which makes it possible for the Physician of Wounded Souls to
begin the healing process.
There is help available
As we struggle to acknowledge our need for help, it becomes very important that we have
hope. We need to have hope that the help we need is available. Without this hope, we will
not have the strength or courage to get help.
The good news is that the resources we need for recovery are not just available, they are
abundant. We don't mean that there is an abundance of support groups or treatment programs
- sometimes these resources can be scarce. But these are tools - important tools, but not
the fundamental ingredients of recovery. Fundamentally, help is available and abundant
because God's grace and love are abundant. There is no shortage, no scarcity, of grace and
love. All of God's grace is available to us. All of God's love is offered freely to us.
No matter what our struggles are, God is prepared, ready, wanting to help. And if God is
for us, who of any particular consequence can be against us? This is the fundamental
reason for optimism about recovery. God is not indifferent. God is not impotent. Rather,
God is continually, compassionately reaching out to us. And God is powerfully able to save
and heal us.
Of course, it is not always easy to hang on to this hope. It is not always easy to
remember who God is. Fortunately we do not need enormous amounts of hope to make progress
in recovery. According to Jesus, only a speck (a 'mustard seed') of hope will do. And,
also fortunately, there are some practical things we can do to nurture the hope which is
growing within us.
The psalmists often nurtured hope by recounting the ways in which God had met their needs
in the past. Or by recounting the ways God had met the needs of others. This discipline of
remembering nurtures hope because it reminds us who God is. It reminds us that God is
powerful and loving; that God is active in our lives- saving, healing, restoring,
There are many ways we might put the discipline of remembering into practice. We remember
who God is every time we take the bread and wine of communion. We remember who God is when
we read the stories of Jesus's healing ministry. We remember who God is when we attend
twelve step meetings or support groups and listen to the stories of others' healing and
recovery. And we remember who God is when we recount past experiences of God's help and
healing in our lives.
There are many sources of help
It has been our experience that there is no one-size-fits-all recovery plan. God is a God
who seems to delight in diversity. God made us as unique individuals and responds to our
specific needs with respect for this uniqueness. God is not limited to counselors, or to
pastors, or to twelve step groups to get us the help we need. God often chooses to use
counselors or pastors or twelve step groups, but whoever God chooses to use in our lives,
it is always God who is bringing the healing. It is God's Spirit who is our Counselor
(John 16: 6); it is God's Spirit who "helps us in our weakness" (Romans 8:26);
it is God's Spirit who "strengthens us in our inner beings so that we can grasp how
wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is" (Ephesians 3:16-19).
God uses many different means to respond to our need for help. God uses friendships,
churches, support groups, counselors, treatment programs and other resources. Often, God
puts together a network of support - a kind of search and rescue team to provide the help
we need. Whatever resources God uses to deliver us and heal us, our part is to continue to
acknowledge our need for help and to persevere in seeking help wherever it is available to
Often, God uses friendships to bring healing. Friendships can provide many gifts that
other resources may not be able to provide. First of all, friendships are mutual. We
listen to and care about and support our friends. Our friends listen to and care about and
support us. Secondly, friendships can be spontaneous. We don't have to limit our
interactions to prearranged times and places. We can call each other and be with each
other as the need arises. And finally, friendships provide intimacy on many levels. We can
socialize together, play together, talk together and pray together. The richest
friendships are often intentional, committed friendships; that is, friendships that are
not only spontaneous, but which are also planned and scheduled on the calendar.
Friendships have limits and they are not always helpful - but often God uses them to bless
us with love and grace.
God also often uses churches as places of help and healing in our lives. Church can offer
us a place of worship, a place of community, a place to focus on God's Word, a place of
spiritual counsel, and a place for prayer support. In worship and in communion we are
reminded of who God is, of his love and his active commitment to us in our brokenness. In
community we are reminded that we are not alone. By focusing on God's Word and receiving
spiritual counsel we see God's grace more clearly. With the support of a community of
prayer, God's healing presence can be experienced in powerful ways. Churches have limits
and they are not always helpful, but often God uses them to bless us with love and grace.
Another resource God uses is support groups. Support groups, whether they are twelve step
groups or groups focused on a specific struggle (such as recovery from sexual abuse),
provide a place where we can focus in a very clear way on our needs and issues. They
provide a place of accountability and a place of special grace and understanding. People
who are facing the same struggles we are facing can break the isolation that comes with
our addiction or our pain. Support groups offer a place to celebrate growth in recovery.
And they are a place of commitment; a place where we commit to meet with others to do the
work of telling the truth and asking for support. Support groups have limits and they are
not always helpful - but often God uses them to bless us with love and grace.
Sometimes God uses counselors for a season in our lives. Counseling offers us an
opportunity to focus in a very specific way on our needs and struggles in life, with the
help of someone who is professionally trained and experienced in the complexities of human
development, family dynamics, addictions, trauma and the interplay of psychology and
physiology. Counseling provides an opportunity for gaining self understanding, being
accountable, taking in feed back, learning new skills, receiving nurturing and care, and
doing the hard work of changing with the support of someone who has come to know us
intimately. Counselors have limits and they are not always helpful - but often God uses
them to bless us with love and grace.
Another resource God may use is a treatment center. Treatment programs provide a time out
to work intensively and with lots of support on issues such as addictions, co-dependency,
eating disorders, depression and abuse. Such programs offer a rich mixture of resources
that typically include medical care, support groups and counseling. Treatment programs
have limits and they are not always helpful - but often God uses them to bless us with
love and grace.
We resist getting help
In spite of the abundance of God's love and grace and the many ways in which love and
grace are available to us, we do not easily reach out for the help we need. Even when we
have acknowledged our need for help, we may find ourselves hesitating, finding excuses,
resisting. Resistance to getting help is often the result of a mixture of fear and despair
It can be frightening to get help. In the process we feel vulnerable and exposed. Jim's
Dad had made cutting remarks about him all his life. Jim was so accustomed to hearing that
he was lazy and stupid and irresponsible that every time he shared in his support group,
he expected to hear these same hurtful comments in response. Even though people didn't
respond this way, Jim imagined that everyone must be privately thinking these things about
him. As a result, he would sometimes begin to share only to freeze with fear and find
himself unable to talk.
Our own experience has been that many different kinds of fears surface when we start to
reach out for help. We may fear that if we are known we will be rejected or judged. Or we
may be afraid that our vulnerability will open us to the possibility of being hurt or even
abused. Or we may be afraid that change will mean breaking long-established family rules
such as "don't talk," or "don't feel" and this could have
unpredictable consequences. We may fear change of any kind - the misery we know may seem
preferable to the uncertainties of change.
We may also resist help because of despair. Like fear, despair can take many forms. We
may despair because we think of ourselves as beyond help. Or we may despair because we
think of ourselves as undeserving of help. Or we may despair because we have difficulty
imagining that help could actually be effective. One person we know put it this way
"Just thinking about getting help increases my despair - imagine how depressed I will
be after I've invested several years in recovery and there still is no hope for me!"
Where did we learn that our problems are unsolvable? Despair is often a sign that we have
looked for help in the past and found none. We may resist help today because we have tried
getting help in the past, only to be disappointed. Joe was sexually abused by a coach when
he was ten years old. He told his parents. But they didn't believe him. Joe learned from
this experience that it doesn't help to ask for help. Trying to get help and being hurt in
the process can lead to despair.
We also may resist reaching out for help because we are full of shame. Shame is usually
the result of experiencing rejection, judgement, ridicule or abuse from others because of
our limitations, our weaknesses, our failures, our vulnerability. These things are
unavoidable parts of being human. But we have come to see them as something terrible about
us; something we need to hide and deny.
Sometimes we experience shame in very general ways: "What if people knew?!" But
often it is specific people who we imagine in times like this. What if Betty knew? What if
my parents knew? What if the pastor knew? Whatever the focus, this is the experience of
shame. We fear what people will think of us, and what we will think of ourselves, if we
are exposed as the broken, struggling, frustrated mortals we really are.
John put it this way "When I first went to the AlAnon group at church I experienced
incredible shame. I had to walk past the choir room to get to the room where the AlAnon
group met and I had this terrible sense that everyone in the choir knew exactly where I
was going and why. I felt completely exposed - like everyone now knew all of my worst
Is this an unreasonable fear? Unfortunately, no. Some people will shame us for getting
help. It is a common dynamic in dysfunctional families and other dysfunctional systems
that the first person to get help is often responded to like this: "Oh, I knew all
along that something was wrong here. I guess I was right. There was a problem in the
family - and it was you!" In situations like this it can feel like you are swimming
upstream against generations and generations of shame.
Its worth it to get help
In spite of our struggles with fear and despair and shame, it is worth it to get help.
First of all, it is worth it to reach out for help because if we don't get help with our
compulsions, addictions and unresolved wounds, not only will our problems not get
resolved, they will get worse. Time heals few wounds. It is much more likely that the
passage of time will increase the probability that a wound will become infected. And the
destruction to ourselves and to our relationships that results can mean years, potentially
a life-time, of tragedy. Without help, the denial, the blame, the addictions, the hurt,
the fear, the shame, the despair will poison our relationships, and end up being passed on
to another generation.
The second reason why it is worth all the struggle and risk to get help is that, when we
do get help, we begin to change. We begin a process of transformation. In the process we
give up our addictions and compulsions. Old wounds heal. We learn that we are forgiven. We
learn that we are loved. We grow in humility, courage and hope. We learn greater honesty
and vulnerability. Our compassion deepens. We become freer to be the person God made us to
It is, in short, worth it to cry out for help because the recovery process eventually
leads to joy. When we cry out to God for help, we learn in a deeper way how much we need
God and how much we need others. The goal of the healing process is not to get to the
point where we no longer need help and support. The goal is to make dependence on God and
interdependence with others a way of life. Jesus used a word picture with his disciples
when he was talking to them about relationships and joy. "I am the vine, and you are
the branches, abide in me and your joy will be full." His point was that we need to
stay closely connected to him. We can no longer pretend to be self-sufficient. As we daily
acknowledge our need for help - as we live increasingly in love and less frequently in
fear, despair and shame - we discover to our amazement that we are capable of experiencing
joy. We don't mean the illusive pleasures that once helped us to numb our pain. We
gradually learn, rather, to experience a real, deep-down joy that is not rooted in denial
but which has its roots sunk so deeply in the soil of God's love that no wind or storm can
threaten its vitality. And that's a pretty good reason to get help. There will be times
when the cure feels worse than the disease - but keep your eyes on the prize. God's has
plans for you - plans rich in grace and love!
Dale is the CEO of Christian Recovery
International, the parent organization to the NACR. Juanita is a therapist in private
practice at Brea Family Counseling Center. The Ryans are the authors of the Life Recovery
Guide series of Bible studies published by InterVarsity Press.