A few weeks ago, I really needed help. I work hard to be an independent person, and to maintain that “illusion” of self-reliance, I avoid asking for help. But after a death in my family, I just couldn’t do everything by myself. So I asked for help. And some of the people I asked said “no.”

I was already feeling overly emotional and vulnerable, so having them turn me down felt worse than it normally would have. I ended up getting the help I needed from other people, but I still spent a few days playing poor me. “Why don’t they care about me as much as I care about them?” I wondered. “If I was willing to drop everything for them, shouldn’t they do the same for me?” And so on. The more I focused on what I hadn’t gotten, the less I remembered what I had: other friends who stepped in to help me when I needed it.

I have thought a lot about this in the past weeks. I wonder if other people have that feeling when doing favors or asking for help from friends and family. I didn’t think I was keeping score, but part of me must have been if I was so focused on getting what I needed from one or two particular people. Do we avoid giving help because we don’t want certain people to “owe” us? And do we avoid asking for help because we don’t want to feel indebted to them? Does it really matter who helps if we get help when we need it?

I guess I’ve been treating favors and “helping” kind of like putting money in the bank. If I made a deposit in a certain way with a certain person, I expected to get it back in kind. (And if I couldn’t bring myself to say no to them, I expected they’d never say no to me, either!) But that’s silly, and things don’t work that way. Sometimes the people we help the most can’t return the favor. Some people need a lot of help, and some — let’s face it — just won’t reciprocate. Sometimes they will say no. Maybe we shouldn’t let that influence whether we say yes or no to them?

Maybe being helpful is more like an insurance policy, or like investing in good will. Maybe if all of us just help the people we can, when we can, there will be someone to help us when we need it? In her book Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, Chaplain Kate Braestrup says, “Love whoever needs what you have; love the ones who have been placed in your path.” The ones in your path may not be your family, or even your friends, but maybe that doesn’t matter?

What do you think? Do you find it easy to help everyone you come in contact with, or do you save your favors for those closest to you? Do you have a hard time asking for help like I do? Please share your thoughts!