By Denae Jones –
“I can’t help it.” It’s one of the most over-used and irritating excuses people say. There are some things in life that we honestly can’t help. We can’t help if we get sick, or how tall we are, or what family we are born into. But most things in life, we actually can help. Like when the kids look at me and say, “I ate the whole bag of Halloween candy. I just couldn’t help it!” Yes you can. You just don’t eat it all. Or when the lady next to me at the store said, “It’s so hard to get out of my pajamas on a rainy day, so I just went to the store like this instead of getting dressed. I just can’t help it!” Um, I would have to disagree. If you are able-bodied enough to walk around the store, you definitely can help it. Girlfriend needed to put on some clothes.
Sometimes we use it as an excuse we give to others, but how often do we use that same excuse to justify things to ourselves? We are exhausted all day because ‘we just couldn’t help’ staying up late to binge watch our favorite Netflix series. Or, we had to get that third helping of our favorite food because it’s so good, and we ‘just can’t help’ but eat more. Can we really not help it? Or do we simply choose not to? And, along the same lines, when we see someone in need, do we help? Or choose not to?
There are always people in our communities that need help, but this time of year is especially difficult for many. The pressure of providing a meal or giving a gift can be stressful. It’s the time of year when everyone asks for ‘just a $10 gift’. (Please give it a lot of thought before you ask a group to do this.) If it was just that one, it would probably be fine, but that’s usually not the case. There are always multiple secret Santas, gift exchanges at school, contributing money to get something for the teacher or the boss, mitten trees in town, family gifts, church dinners, exchanges at holiday parties, bringing a side dish here and there, and so forth. It’s all good stuff, but the thing is that a bunch of $10 gifts add up to a lot of money, and when you are in a situation where you can’t participate, it can be embarrassing.
There was one year in particular when they may as well have asked me for a million dollars because on top of bills, groceries, and with Santa coming to town, I just didn’t have another $10 to spare. We made as many gifts as we could, and ate grilled cheese or egg sandwiches every single day. I got my very favorite Christmas gift that year. My daughter Julia got a box out of the barn and cut out one side. She measured and cut it into a picture frame, and tore old magnets off of something else to glue on the back. It was to frame our family picture on the side of the refrigerator. I cherish it. And I will never (ever) forget the kindness shown to me by a few who very discreetly and lovingly slipped a few bills or a Kroger’s gift certificate into their holiday card to us. When I think back to that difficult year and how much their kindness helped me, I get both tearful and excited to be able to do the same for other people each year since.
It’s my hope that the next time we use the phrase ‘I can’t help it,’ that we will be referring to positive things. We can’t help but give a smile. We can’t help but see past a difficult situation and see people for who they are. We can’t help but recognize when we can be used to meet a need. The folks in our Florida office have made a tradition of getting volunteers to contribute groceries so they can present a family with all they will need for the holidays. My friend Amanda got it right, when she said they were ‘being the change.’ They saw a need and did something about it. I love it.
Maybe there are some things we can’t help, but there are a lot of things that we can. We can help how we treat other people. We can help what kind of attitude we have. We can help preserve someone’s dignity. We can help what we say. We can help how we make other people feel. We can be purposeful about being the change.
So what can we do to be the change today? This week? This holiday season? This coming year? Let’s not just make plans. Let’s put it into action.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving season, friends!