Feeling Helpless

Most of us would admit to feeling helpless at times. Illness, the sudden loss of a job, even a leak we can’t fix can leave us experiencing an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability. No matter how hard we try, we find it difficult to put a truly brave face on things. Outside we may look as though we are coping; inside we are more of a mess. For many in the UK and throughout the EU, the Brexit crisis is stoking up fears about the future, while those who see their jobs disappearing with the collapse of the High Street and traditional manufacturing industries have more immediate worries. We have learned, painfully, how quickly a situation can go from ‘just managing’ to ‘not managing at all’. So, how does prayer fit into this?

One of the things we learn very quickly when we try to pray seriously is that prayer has many modes. There is joy and sorrow, hope and fear; times when prayer seems easy and natural, times when it seems impossibly hard and barren. The important point is to persevere, to accept the prayer God gives now, not the prayer he gave yesterday or may give tomorrow. That is to allow our helplessness to be transformed by grace. Unfortunately, we don’t see what is happening, though others may; and it is important to remember that feelings are not a very good guide to what is happening. We may well go on feeling helpless, powerless, even if we aren’t. It keeps us humble, if nothing else.

The humility we learn in prayer is the bedrock of Benedictine life. That needs thinking about. Humility seems so attractive in other people but in ourselves is often perceived as akin to weakness. Odd, isn’t it, that something that feels as wobbly and uncertain as helplessness should actually provide us with safe standing? Another paradox to get our minds around.


6 thoughts on “Feeling Helpless”

  1. Thank you sister. I’ve got something to think about. In the meantime I have been shovelling snow. Not that there’s a lot of snow, but it can also help when one feels helpless. Ora et labora. (Is there any word on shovelling snow from your pavement in the Rule? Or a passage in which it would apply?)

  2. How delightful to hear your words about humility and a sense of helplessness. Isn’t that the very description of a pure and simple child? The great commandment of Jesus ““Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” We are called by Christ to become as pure and simple as an innocent child who lovingly, and ever so tenderly loves with deepest devotion their mother and father. Rest in the bosom of Christ and in the sweet arms of our Blessed Mother, Mary, who said : “Do not be frightened or afraid. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under the shadow of my protection? Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the cradle of my arms? – Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego.

  3. I wonder how often we admit to ourselves that we are helpless?

    Often our pride overcomes our humility and we strive to overcome it with meaningless platitudes or unfortunate words, which do nothing to alter the situation giving us cause for concern, but feeling helpless to change things.

    3 homeless men have taken up residence on the doorsteps of an empty police station across from our church. We have engaged with them, offering support, use of facilities for washing etc, and access to a church based night shelter, nearby.

    All attempts of us, our local authority and the charitable organisations for the homeless have been rejected. The reasons quoted have been as wide ranging addictions, which wouldn’t be met in those places provided as they’d have to obey rules and lose their freedom of choice to do exactly what they want. Even on cold nights, they sleep out.

    Local people have been generous in giving them food and water, local cafes have provided free meals and five weeks later, their open air home is surrounded by debris and rubbish and old drink cans, takeaway cartons, and other, less salubrious items, such as human waste, which we have also discovered in our Church Grounds, even in the Garden of Rest for the Ashes of Deceased parishioners.

    In the face of their spurning our offers to help, we now are placed in a position of helpless anxiety. What if one of them dies on a cold night, surely, we could have done more? What if they are attacked or worse, by some of the people, who resent their presence.

    Our only resort is prayer – in our helplessness, we ask for God to turn around their hearts – to open them up to take the help offered and hopefully to be given the opportunity to turn their lives around.

    In the face of helplessness and the feeling that we should be doing more, we pray, and pray in hope of them hearing that call. One of them has acknowledged he was (or is) a Christian, being adamant that the is not a Catholic, but a protestant. He remembers his Baptism and Confirmation in the Church of England, when his life fell apart, after a spell in prison, during which his much loved Mother died and he came out to no home to go to. He has been on the streets for over five years. He expressed the hope that God would intervene in his life – but felt that until he could overcome his addictions to alcohol, which he says if killing him, he won’t come off the streets.

    Being helpless is a state, that I am not used to being in – it doesn’t sit well with my Army training and how I dealt with problems as a Welfare Officer. I had much support in that role and knew who to refer individuals in distress to for help. In this situation, all agencies know of the issues, but seem powerless to help, without enforcing the law, which seems the last resort.

    The owner of the building, planning to develop it, has done nothing about making the site secure, allowing them to continue unimpeded in their lives, which now for them, must feel very settled. They have the law on their side, but seem averse to do anything about it – perhaps because they want to keep the community onside as their development plans are being contested strongly by local community groups.

    So, I sit in helpless and anxiety, praying and hoping for a solution that will provide for their needs, and allowing the peace of the community to be restored.

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