Matt and I sat at her table discussing ways our nonprofit organization could help her with repairs around her home. She lived in an older manufactured home that sat on several acres on the outskirts of town. She had some family, but they were busy with their own lives.
She asked how many people would come to help. Matt joyfully responded that he felt sure he could have around 30 volunteers come help. With that bit of information, she froze. After a moment of awkward silence she informed us that this wasn’t going to work.
Matt did eventually work at her home with a small number of volunteers. A number she felt comfortable having on her property.
Why won’t they ask for help…
She was a young single mother with two small children. She knew it wasn’t right, but she didn’t know any other thing to do. She left her children at home for hours at a time while she went out to work odd jobs, or make a trip to the store. Sometimes she just needed a break, so she would go hang out with some friends…again leaving her children alone at home.
Then the inevitable happened. A neighbor found her three-year-old wandering around outside her apartment wearing only a soiled diaper. Another resident of the apartment picked the baby up and began looking for her parent. Finally she called 911 to get help. This opened up a Child Protective Services investigation which led to them removing the children from the home and placing them in foster care.
People isolate and resist the very help they need…
Stories like these happen all the time. What is the common thread? One is social isolation. Often we who “have it all together” look at people who struggle with a contemptuous attitude not understanding some of the causes that led to isolation, and in many cases, poor choices.
In my time around people I have seen different reasons people isolate. Some are logistical. Some are relational. Some are emotional.
Why People Who Need Help Isolate
Because of their geography. Some, like the woman in the first story, are isolated by where they live. My grandmother lived on 3 acres a mile outside of a little town of about five thousand people. Her closest relatives lived an hour away. She could go days without a personal visit.
Because of lack of transportation. Geography might not isolate a person, but if they don’t have a reliable form of transportation, then isolation exists. Lack of transportation affects a person’s ability to attend school, hold a job, and take part in their community.
Because of economic challenges. If you don’t have money to put gas in your car, go get a bite to eat, or enjoy local entertainment, then you just stay home. Nothing wrong with that, but when it’s day after day, loneliness, depression, and isolation sets in.
Because of fear. If a person isolates themselves for long periods of time, then they struggle with fear and social anxiety. Even if they want to ask, they can’t overcome the emotional barriers.
Because of shame. Shame is a powerful emotion. We get ashamed of our lifestyle, our poverty, our family dynamics, our failure…shame keeps people from asking for help maybe more than anything else.
The point is…
The people who need our help the most probably aren’t going to knock on our doors or give us a call. And if we are so busy with our own lives, we will not notice them. It takes a sensitive and intentional person to first notice a person in need, then to step out of our comfort zone to offer them help.
Want to live a missional life? Ask God, who notices everyone, to open your eyes to those around you who are isolating.
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