“Helping” People Who Don’t Want to be Helped

helpI am the type of person who likes to help other people. I find it easy to offer help and support to those who are in need. When I see a vehicle broken down along the road, I usually stop see if I can be of assistance. When I see an elderly person struggling to get a can of soup off the top shelf at the grocery store, I volunteer to get the can for her. I pay attention to my surroundings, and this allows me to be helpful when appropriate. I suspect this is why I became a pastor, and if I had the necessary training I would today be a social worker or would be in some other profession that allowed me to be of assistance to others. This doesn’t mean that I am perfect or that I always do right by other people. I can be, in certain circumstances, an asshole who is indifferent to the plight of others around him. On balance, however, I do my best to help others.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that some people don’t want help. You can see their need and know exactly what must happen to fix it, yet when you offer your help, it is rejected. In this post, I want to tell a story about a family which graphically illustrates the fact that some people are beyond help. I first met this family in the 1980s when the mother and her children began attending the church I was pastoring at the time. They were poorly dressed and smelled as if they hadn’t had a bath in weeks, but I welcomed them into our congregation. The mother proved to have a screw loose, but because, at the time, I thought psychiatrists and psychologists were tools used by Satan to corrupt the minds of the followers of Jesus, all I could offer her was friendly advice and prayer.

One day, I decided to visit this family at their home. We were in the midst of a revival meeting at the time, so I brought the evangelist with me. As we entered the home, I could not believe my eyes. Everywhere I looked I saw filth. It was evident that the family was what we now call a hoarder. The sink and counters were overflowing with dishes that hadn’t been washed in weeks. A wringer washer sat in the corner, filled with dishes. Climbing on the counter, in and out of the cabinets, and on the stove and toaster were more cockroaches than I could count. As I moved into the main part of the home, the floors were covered with clothing. I would later learn that the family rarely did laundry, and when they wanted something to wear they would just dig it out of one of the piles on the floor. The house smelled as any house would which was filled with unwashed humans and dishes and un-laundered clothing. Little did I know that the bathroom tub was partially filled with used tampons and menstrual pads. No one could take a bath because there was no place to take it.

My reason for visiting them was to evangelize the husband. I sat down with him on the couch and shared with him the gospel. During my sharing, I watched as cockroaches climbed up and down the man’s legs. Fortunately for me, he prayed the sinners prayer and became a Christian. For the next decade, he and his family would faithfully attend church every time the doors were open, and if I needed him to help with a project at the church, he was always happy to help. From this perspective, they were not bad people. I’ve met more than a few well-dressed, nice-smelling Christians who were mean-spirited sons of bitches who believed that giving their tithe exempted them from working at the church. I learned long ago that you can’t judge people by how they dress or whether the use Zest every day.

After leading the husband Christ, I decided to take it upon myself to “help” this family clean up their act. The joke around town was that if their home ever caught on fire, it would infest the entire community with roaches. People knew that this family attended the church I pastored, so I thought for testimony’s sake, it would be best if they cleaned up their home, washed their clothing, and occasionally took a bath. The wife admitted that she knew that they needed to clean things up, so I took her admission as an open door for me to work my magic. All I wanted to do is “help” them. I talked to Polly and some of the ladies of the church about the possibility of them cleaning this couple’s home. I can still visualize the looks I got from Polly and the other women I was speaking to. They knew how awful it was at this family’s home. They knew all about the filth and the roaches. I implored them to consider what Jesus would have them do. Here was an opportunity for us to “minister” to a family in need. The men, once the house was in order, would help the husband clean up the exterior of the house. It too looked like a bomb had exploded.

On the appointed day, the ladies of the church entered this family’s home to begin what was expected to be a multiple day cleaning project. These women gagged their way through gathering up bags of trash, clothing, broken household items, and debris and piling it in the backyard. By early evening, they had a ten-foot-wide by 10- foot-tall pile of black trash bags in the backyard. The ladies promised that they would return on day two to continue their cleaning effort. One lady, an hour or so later, drove by this family’s house. She was shocked to find the husband and wife, along with their children, in the backyard digging into the bags and hauling stuff back into the house. She called me later that night and told me what she had seen. She then said to me, preacher, please don’t make us go back to their house again.

I was, of course, infuriated by this couple’s behavior. I drove over to their home and investigated the matter for myself. Sure enough, the pile was smaller than it had been a few hours earlier. I gave them a what for and told them that the ladies would not be back. That was fine by them. They were happy with things as they were. I learned for the first time that despite my good — albeit naive — intentions and desire to help others, some people don’t want to be helped. Change is hard, and for this family, living in a filthy, debris-strewn home was all they had ever known. I later met this couple’s parents, and I then knew exactly where their lack of basic housekeeping skills and body care came from. Their homes were much like this couple’s home, including cockroaches crawling to and fro. This experience aptly reminded me of the old adage that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

This couple needed help, but deeply ingrained habits kept them from accepting it. Several years later, a traveling evangelist came to our church to hold a meeting. A week or so after the meeting’s conclusion, the evangelist called me and let me know that their new travel trailer was infested with roaches. I asked him if so-and-so had given them any groceries. He replied, why, Brother, yes they did. They gave us several food items, including a big bag of potatoes. I laughed, and replied, that’s where your roaches came from! I advised him that, in the future, he should not accept food donations from this family. He wisely heeded my advice. Such is the life of a rural small-town Baptist preacher.

Have you ever tried to help someone, only to find out they didn’t really want the kind of help you had to offer? Please share your stories in the comment section.

Note

I am in no way denigrating the family in this story. They were, in many ways, wonderful people. Challenging to be sure, but I felt as their pastor that they always loved and respected me and would do anything to be a help to my family or the church. Decades later, I now know that the reasons for their way of life were psychological in nature, and what they really needed was therapy. Of course, at the time, I believed that Jesus was the answer for everything. I now know that Jesus doesn’t sweep floors, scrub toilets, or wash laundry. What this family really needed couldn’t be found at church.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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8 Comments

  1. TLC

    Yes, I am going through this right now. It stinks, but it’s not as smelly as hoarding. 😉

    Am self-employed as a web designer/marketing professional. In November 2014 I shot video for a client who was conducting financial management sessions in a church. The pastor of the church had started her work as a prison ministry where they found housing for just-released inmates, and did job and family counseling too. During these video sessions, this woman was very helpful to me with an issue I was having with city officials. Along the way, I learned that the church and prison ministry really needed a website. So, to thank them for what they had done for me, I offered to build a site for free.

    I thought they’d be so exicted about this that the site would be built in 60-90 days. Wrong! I also paid for the first year of website hosting, and all of it went to site development. I had to hound this woman and her husband, who was the pastor of the church, continually to get the information I needed to build the site they wanted. I finally had to deliver an ultimatum that if they didn’t have site site done by X day, they wouldn’t get their site. This was a few days before the first year of web hosting expired, which they also had to take over. This prompted them to finally finish the site. I then trained them and three other people how to use the site and update it.

    The site sat untouched for more than two years. They didn’t use the calendar, blog, volunteer sign-up or any of the other features they’d requested and I’d built into the site.

    One Sunday night in April 2018, the pastor called and asked me to re-send the training packet I’d created, because she was training someone new to update the site. How soon did she need them? Oh, training was going to start as soon as I sent the notes. Good thing I was at home. About an hour later, I noticed the email hadn’t been sent, so I texted her to see if she’d received the email. No, they were still waiting for it. But she never called to find out what was going on or ask me to resend it.

    A couple of weeks ago, her husband called at 9 pm on a Thursday. Their site had disappeared, he said, and he asked me to investigate. I couldn’t see the site or even get to the login page. I called him back and told him to call the website hosting company, because something serious had happened. He then called back an hour later — now it’s 10 pm! — and asked me if I knew their PIN number for customer support. Uh, no, sorry — don’t have that at my fingertips! I told him I’d worked a 12-hour day that day, and asked him call me in the morning when my company was open. He said he would.

    Of course, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep with this on my mind. So I found the login information for the web hosting account, including the PIN number, and re-sent it to him. (Had already emailed it to them when I opened the account.) Then I did a bit of investigating and discovered that the site had been hacked — probably because they hadn’t run any updates in 2 years. So I sent that information as well.

    Did they respond to my emails? Call me the next day? Nope. Waited a week and texted her one more time. 24 hours later, she texted back to say the PIN didn’t work. I went to sign in to their account, and the password didn’t work, so I asked for a reset. I let her know that the email was coming and they had to reset it to get their PIN. Again, no response.

    I texted her a week later and asked if they got my info. A day later, she replied and said they had and they were working on it. The site is still down.

    This site would have cost $7,000-$8,000 if I’d billed for it. I feel like I gave them a very expensive gift, and it took them a year to even open it. Then they left it sitting on the table for more than two years before they even touched it. And then it died from their neglect.

    I will never give anyone a free website again. Very hard lesson learned.

    Reply
    1. TLC

      Sorry about the editing errors. Couldn’t get back in to fix them.

      Reply
  2. Becky

    I have friends who live in filth. It’s a combination of poor health and bad habits. Consequently I spend very little time in their trailer. (Although if I’m there I always pick up trash and put it in a trash bag.)

    They aren’t going to change although they occasionally make attempts to clean up. I have spoken to them about how they smell and they do make attempts to smell okay when out, especially if they care about who they are with. They had issues back 15 years ago although not as bad. The death of the husband/father catapulted his wife and youngest son into a complete disaster. The other sons wanted them to move in with one of them but they wanted my friend and youngest son to be their housekeepers. That did NOT help anything.

    So, bottom line, I help in ways that they will accept. I can’t change their house much (my health) and they are getting food, clothing and shelter. And they try to clean up around me. It’s sad but it is what it is.

    Reply
  3. Charles

    I agree to the comment policy.

    Hi Bruce. I am a life-long clinical depression sufferer. I had been doing pretty well up until a few days ago. However, I am now in the very deepest pits of a clinical depression bout. My long-time Ph.D. psychologist retired a few years ago, and the once healthy and vibrant availability of mental health professionals in my geographic area was hit hard by the insurance companies about 25 years ago and has existed in a state of devastation ever since. Few people are practicing—and so many people need help that they cannot take on new patients. Those few that are still practicing are right at retirement age. It’s a total mess.

    I think I know what triggered this bout of clinical depression. It was a huge mountain of internalized anger that i had no place to put and no way to work out because I felt powerless (hopeless and helpless) in the face of it all.

    (1) The first thing was the crisis with the migrant kids being separated from their parents at our southern border—knowing that most of these poor folks are fleeing from death threats back home in Guatemala and El Salvador. As one journalist put it: “These people are fleeing a building on fire—only it is too countries on fire.” The cold hearts and lies of the Trump administration and how they are treating these poor people made me so angry i could not see straight. It was anger that just built up higher and higher and higher—with no place to go—no relief valve. One key psychological definition of clinical depression is anger so powerful that when it has no other place to go, it gets turns inwards on the “self.” That is what happened to me. I am not a violent person at all. I do not own any firearms and have no plans to buy any. However, I was so angry on some days that I felt like I wanted to hurt someone. I fantasized about having a party at my house and uninvited guests showing up with other guests—and they started heckling other guests about being “Snowflakes” and “wetback lovers”—and all I could think about was the relief from suffering that I could get by rounding them all up and telling them to get the fuck out of my house and never come back because they voted for Trump. Even if friends of mine voted for Trump, I wanted to kick them out too—and viciously unfriend them for life. Honestly Bruce. I just cannot emotionally take the Trump administration, its cold-hearted actions, and all the lies presented as truth. I am a professional archaeologist and an American historian with it. Because of my deep connection of heart with our country and its history, I see more than most men in great detail what is being torn to shreds each day in my country—and it grieves me so badly. It violates my personal values and nearly every liberal Christian value I have. A couple of days ago, I was so depressed that I was scared of getting close to going off the deep end like Anthony Bourdain or Robin Williams—but not quite fully there. I am hoping for better. Being a historian, I have always loved the Fourth of July—not for fireworks and picnics—but because I understand all the work, thought, sacrifice, and pain that went into forging this country—and to just see it all ripped to shreds by a lie-telling moron who will not even do his homework in the White house—just too much.

    (2) I am a Christian who supports LGBTQ civil rights—because I know how horribly these folks have suffered for so many decades and how poorly “church people” have treated them. In addition, I am a big supporter of women’s rights, and because I grew up as a poor child in a poor neighborhood, I have a profound concern for those Jesus called “the least of these.” When Anthony Kennedy announced that he was stepping down a few days ago, that was the final straw that broke this camel’s emotional back. From that moment on, I knew that Trump would appoint some Satanic bastard to the U.S. Supreme Court—and as a direct result of it—for many decades to come—all the hurting people I care about will have their civil rights stripped away—and they will be walked on with hobnail boots by people who have ice water flowing through their veins—and worst of all—most of the people doing the boot stomping will claim that they are following the way of Jesus and the Bible. That was just one more huge mountain of anger already added to the Mount Everest anger inside me with no place to go—no place to displace it to.

    And no, I cannot exercise it off because I am 66 years old with severe lower leg and foot problems that cause me to fall easily—-cannot run like I once did or even keep my numb feet on bicycle pedals. I can still walk, but only for short distances with a cane.

    I know you are not a pastor anymore. But I also know that you have a good heart and that you too suffer from depression and anxiety sometimes. So, from your normally good heart and humanistic perspective, do you have any kind words of counsel on how to pull out of this clinical depression episode that I find myself in right now? Thanks!!!

    If I have to watch one more daily episode of “The Donald Trump Show” and all the hurt it causes people, I do sincerely feel that my mind and heart could cross the line into psychosis—never been there before—but the thought of it scares me.

    Reply
    1. Autumn

      Charles I’m so sorry you have crashed under the weight of this mess. I wish I had actual words that could help you. I also wish there was something concrete we could do to fix this. You sound like a kind man so I had to say something kind back.

      Also this is much bigger and more organized than just the current POTUS

      Reply
  4. Zoe

    Charles, I know you didn’t ask me but I saw your comment this morning and I thought to myself, you’re not alone Charles. This is a comment I left on my own blog recently. June 21 to be exact. I’m Canadian and it all makes me sick as well. I have episodes of depression and anxiety and I’m not sure if I haven’t found myself getting worse at times ever since he was elected and as you know with depression/anxiety we get exhausted and we need the energy to stay positive but my goodness it’s not easy when every single day his face is everywhere and his words and his ego and his indifference are . . . I’m speechless.

    Beyond Resistance: Coping with the Stress of the Trump Era Kindle Edition
    by Kathy Hertz (Author), Donna Lipman (Author) (New Book)

    I just came across this on Twitter. The authors have a Twitter site called Beyond Resistance. Timely. I wanted to post something about myself, wondering how the Trump Era is affecting/effecting people, especially those who suffer from mental illnesses or for that matter, any sort of illness.

    I was afraid to put into words that I wondered how many people have taken their own lives during the Trump Era and whether there was a correlation due to the constant bombardment of what seems to be hopelessness associated with this whole era.

    I’m not sure it is comforting to hear you aren’t alone. Some things I try to do is get enough sleep. I know you’ll know these things but if you’ll allow me, it even helps me to put it into words.

    I walk out of the room if he’s on the T.V. He triggers me.

    I too have physical pain and right now I can manage walking around the back yard just to change my focus. Even sitting on the porch or looking at and listening to nature.

    If you can’t get out, maybe a CD of nature sounds. Birds, the ocean? Things like that? Music. I’m always amazed at how when my anger rises to the top that it sweeps into the mix just about all the other things I’m angry about or ever was angry about. For this, music helps me a lot. Rock and roll. I try to find another pulse. Another beat. To take another breath. So difficult I know. So damn difficult.

    Keep eating. When I’m stressed I struggle to take care of myself. To eat something at least half-ways decent. Even if just a bit. If you haven’t the energy to prepare 3 meals, eat smaller ones through the day? Drink fluids.

    The thing I hate about depression and anxiety is it seems like we hate ourselves and when I think of the hate I witness in the Trump Era I want to resist it, you know? It’s like I need to resist hatred because if we exhaust ourselves with his, he wins. Know what I mean?

    The world needs you Charles. It needs me too. Sounds arrogant doesn’t it? But it’s not meant that way. Even if it’s one person out there that also feels like us, we can share with them that we get it. Even that alone might reduce that type of anger that endangers us. Perhaps you have family around you that needs you too. Needs your loving perspective and your loving legacy. Remember, I’m also cheering myself along here too.

    <3

    Reply
  5. Brian

    Hey Charles, you are having a quite a time with this dullard and as Zoe says, you are far from alone. When depression surfaces for me in such a fashion that I feel paralyzed, I tell myself I deserve at least one good song or one tasty morsel or something/anything I like…. Choosing that one thing is a step, a small but important step. For me, a bit of Van Morrison or reading a Neruda poem are balms that take up some new space in me and push out the stupid fucks of the world, like your president. You might consider reading an early Margaret Atwood book, like Power Politics. In one poem, there is a line about a previous love relationship gone bad in which she says, (I am paraphrasing here):
    Please die, I said, so I can write about it.
    By the way, Charles, that is my fondest wish for your leader… I am sorry your are feeling so much pain but always remember, You are able to care for the children that your president punishes. You are able to open your heart to those who suffer. You are successfully human and needed.
    Best wishes from the land of retaliatory tariffs against fathead, little hands….

    Reply
  6. Grey One talks sass

    I no longer do Good Deeds as No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. That said I continue to do The Correct Thing because it’s the correct thing to do.

    I read the Tarot, not to tell the future because that’s not possible. I read to remind myself (and others when I do the rare spread for someone) what I’ve forgotten. Keeps the mind focused on the here/now.

    Charles, I’ve no idea how you landed on Bruce’s site but you could not find a better group of folks. Glad you found this place. I hope it provides comfort. I know it has for me.

    Reply

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