I have to admit. I have a hard time asking for help. I have that “false pride” thing about being able to do it myself, that if I have to ask for help, it means I’m helpless. It makes me think about the two year old who proclaims, “I can do it myself!” And now that I’m on the other side of the life spectrum, at age seventy, it means even more to me to be able to still do things by myself. A recent weekend brought all of this into the light.
I pulled our 19 foot sailboat up to Lake Tahoe to experience sailing and camping on the largest alpine lake in North America. Yes, I was alone. I would have preferred that Joyce accompany me, but she wanted to stay home and help with our daughter, Mira’s, newborn son. And I have a need for occasional solo adventures.
By the time I launched, I had only a few hours of daylight left. The wind had died down, so I started my outboard motor and headed toward a small beach I found on the map. I didn’t get very far. The motor sputtered and died. I couldn’t get it started again. When I pulled on the starter cord, the little flashing red light proclaimed “low oil.” I forgot to check the oil level before launching. Did I have extra engine oil stored in the boat? Of course not!
A very faint breeze allowed me to inch into a private boat harbor and tie up to the only vacant mooring buoy as darkness was descending (a miracle in itself). I slept that night in the boat.
In the morning, I saw a boat leaving the harbor. Perhaps they might have some engine oil. I only needed a small amount, maybe half a cup, to allow me to start the motor. But that would require asking for help, flagging them down by waving my hands, inconveniencing them, showing my helplessness.
I swallowed my pride, flagged them down, and asked the young man for oil. He didn’t have any, but gave me a ride to the dock, where I could walk a half hour to a small convenience store. On the way to the store, I practiced asking for help/oil a few more times without success. I did notice, however, that most people were very nice, wanting to help even though they couldn’t. They felt needed, and that brought out their best.
I bought a quart of engine oil at the store, walked back to the dock, got another ride out to my boat (more asking for help), and added the oil to my motor. I got it started, but just barely, and headed across the vast lake to an area of small, more hidden, pocket beaches. As long as I squeezed the primer bulb hard and continuously, I could keep the motor running. Obviously, the low oil was not the problem. There was something else wrong with the motor.
I kept waiting for the wind to pick up, so I wouldn’t be so dependent on the motor but, alas, it was not to be. No wind the entire day! And hard to believe on such a huge lake!
My hands were cramped and exhausted from all the squeezing when I saw a cute little beach. About a hundred feet offshore, the motor finally died. I pulled and pulled on the starter cord with no success. Finally I jumped into the lake, holding a length of rope attached to the bow, and started pulling the boat to shore. Amazingly, a man on the beach called out, “Do you need any help?” At that particular moment, however, I was actually doing just fine, and enjoying being in the cool lake water. Another part of me silently added, “Barry, you just missed another opportunity to ask for help, whether you could do it yourself or not!”
The next morning dawned practically windless again and I decided to end my trip and get back to the boat ramp as soon as possible. I pushed off from shore and, while again inching at a snail’s pace from the beach, tried to start the engine. Nothing! I kept at it. For three hours I pulled on that starter cord, trying every trick I could. I’m amazed the cord didn’t break, leaving me in much worse condition. And all the while, I hoped the wind would finally come up. But that was not to be.
I practiced asking for a tow from other boats that passed, but no one offered that level of help. I called a boat towing company who was happy to help, for $375! I told him I’d call him back.
Finally it dawned on me. Not in all this time had I even had the thought to ask for divine help. I pray for divine help every day. I pray that Joyce and I can continue to be instruments of peace and love with our books and events. I pray that I can learn to trust God in all things, big and small. I pray for the well-being of our children and now grandchildren. But to pray for an outboard motor? Didn’t even cross my mind.
But why not? Nothing is too small or insignificant for the angels, those heavenly helpers. I let go of the starter cord, placed my hands on the motor, and asked the angels for their all-powerful help. I asked sincerely, then gave thanks for their help. I pulled the cord once more.
The motor instantly roared to life. I had to laugh at the odds of that happening. I yanked on that starter cord maybe a thousand times with no success, said one prayer to the angels, and voila! What a lesson! I could almost imagine a group of angels sitting around just waiting for me to ask them for help, perhaps having this conversation,
“Any asking yet?”
“No, he’s still pulling on that cord, trying to do it himself.”
“How many hours has it been now, in Earth time?”
“Hey, wait. He’s asking us for help. Finally! Okay, who wants to bless that motor?”
I sincerely hope I can once and for all learn the joy of asking for help, from people and from angels, from those I can see and from those I can’t see. I hope I can remember how much joy it gives others to help me. And I hope I can remember that problem size doesn’t matter, that I can feel my dependence on God and the angels in all situations.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.