Obligation, Opportunity, Love

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I do freelance graphic design. People ask me to do work for them all the time. Most of those people don’t think to pay me.  Why should they?  We’re friends. And shouldn’t friends do things to help each other?  Yes.  Friends should do things to help each other.  And I love to do things to help my friends.  I do all kinds of free work for friends.  Website & blog designs, logo design, business cards, Powerpoint presentations, video productions, promotional brochures and flyers, music CD designs, Christmas cards, party invitations, wedding invitations, birth announcements, graduation announcements, wedding programs, memorial programs, and on and on.  Most of my clients don’t ever realize they are clients.  For the record, these have been an absolute joy and honor to do.  I LOVE helping my friends.  I LOVE that I can do something practical to support them.  Friends, hear me clearly, I LOVE helping you.

But have you ever found yourself in a situation where you don’t want to help?  I’ve been thinking about this as I recently witnessed an exchange… one person asking for help and another scrambling to come up with a good reason to justify not helping.  It was a dance.  A very awkward painful dance.  I could see both sides.  And I think something is happening in our society that I don’t like.  I think it’s become socially rude to ask people for help.  Are you seeing that too?

I know there are a lot of needs and it’s humanly impossible to help every time.  Afterall there are only so many hours in a day.  I feel stretched.  You don’t know how many other people asked me to help them today.  And not just today.  Every day.  My calendar is full full full.  Yet, in a time of need I will drop everything to support someone I love.  So, let’s admit the truth: there is wriggle room in every day.  But, what constitutes a “time of need”?  It could result in me doing free things for people all the time.  But I have other responsibilities like my kiddos, and my marriage, and the things I feel God is calling me to do.

I get it.  Over time, having to do things for other people can make your heart resentful.  Right?  Have you ever felt that way?  Do you avoid certain people because you know they’ll ask you to do something for them?  Do you get mad when people ask you to help?  Do you prefer to be self-sufficient so you don’t have to ask anyone to help you?  (On the flipside, I’ve been hurt when I thought friends were offering to help but then handed me an invoice for their services.  If they’d told me upfront I would have been happy to agree to their terms but I felt blindsided. Ever happen to you?)

So where is the line between helping a friend and being paid for your profession? Some people choose to never use friends and always hire.  There seems to be wisdom in that except if we’re going to spend money wouldn’t it be awesome for that money to go to people you know and love??  When we first joined the staff of our church one of the then-council-members advised us to never use the services of congregants because if we’re unhappy we can never complain or choose to go to a competitor.  We didn’t agree and loved supporting the business of the congregation.  But one day we needed to change to a different company for something we were needing to do.  That congregant left our church because they felt we were betraying them.  It’s such a complicated issue!!

But here’s what I know about friendship:  We should be able to ask each other for help!  More and more it’s becoming socially unacceptable to ask friends to help.  For example, one of our local airport shuttle services uses guilt in their advertising tactics saying “Friends don’t ask friends to drive them to the airport.”  Really?  That makes me sad.  If friends can’t ask friends to drive them to the airport… then what can friends ask friends to do?  Very little it seems.  And then what kind of friends are we to each other???

The worst “helping a friend” situation I’ve had is when I was asked to do a last-minute project for a friend of a friend. The friend of a friend had run out of money in their budget and the success of their business was in the balance.  I put in about 20 hours in two days.  The “client” kept calling with changes and hopes and dreams and ideas.  The deadline was looming.  I was exhausted. I had to get help from two of my design mentors.  They helped me out of the kindness of their hearts. They knew I was not being paid, so they knew they would not be paid.

When that fiasco was over, one of them gave me great advice: “When someone asks if you can do something for them, say ‘You can’t afford my price but I’m willing to donate ___ hours of time to you.  That is a gift of $____.'”  

He said that will help me to avoid getting taken advantage of and protect my heart from becoming resentful.  I’m yet to actually use his advice though.  It’s just so awkward.  “Yes my dear friend who is getting married and wants a “through the years” powerpoint done. You can’t afford me.”  It just doesn’t feel good to say to someone.  But neither does it feel good being up all night working on a 200-photo wedding slide show for someone who doesn’t realize how long it takes.  This kind of thing can ruin relationships. 

I wonder how many of my friends do things for me when they would rather have said no?  (It is worth noting that my friend who is a guru in the design world has never asked me for payment for his advice and help. I know how much he is worth and I know I can’t afford him. And yet, he has given his time to me without any mention of how many hours he will give to me or how much it’s worth.  Even he struggles with walking the line between friendship and profession.)

In early 2000, the Senior Pastor of the church we had just joined called me at work.  At work. A personal call. Not cool.  He called me to ask if my husband and I would lead a two-week youth mission trip to Mexico. Two weeks. That would use up all my vacation time with my job.  Not cool.  He also asked if I would also handle the whole team’s fundraising. Like I didn’t have enough to do in life. Not cool.

I was mad.

I took my lunch break and I called my husband.  I was ticked off and needed to vent.

My husband listened and heard my heart.  Then he said, “What if this is not a man making a request?  What if this is God giving you an opportunity to be part of His plans?”

Ugh.  I am so grateful for my hubby’s wisdom and leadership.  I prayed about my heart and ask God to give me eyes to see the opportunities He was giving me.  Not just for that day, but all of my days.

So here’s the real strength I have in awkward situations when people ask me to do things for them: I get to ask God if it is an opportunity directly from him. And I get to dig into my heart and examine my feelings.

If it is an opportunity from Him, then I need to make an attitude choice to do it out of love. I have to throw off my attitude of obligation or responsibility.  If I don’t believe it’s something I’m to do, I get to choose to have love and have a difficult but growing conversation with my friend. Either way, Love is the only motivation that brings life to my relationships.

Each day we will be asked to do things for others.  We should be asked to do many, many things. Afterall, we are in community with people and there are many needs!

What if we all asked God what to do when we are asked to help someone?  As a community we need to be able to ask each other for help. Let’s NOT go with the trend of our culture!  Friends CAN ask friends for help.  Don’t get mad when people ask you for help.  In my awesome husband’s words: “What if this is not a man making a request? What if this is God giving you an opportunity to be part of His plans?”

Truly I believe the Bible when it talks about God placing us in a Body (see Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12). My gifts are from Him and they are for this Body.  Because of that I try to freely give my skills to help my community.  At the same time, when someone offers to pay me I say yes.  And when I need help I ask for help.  There is power when this Body works to support each other.  There is growth that comes when we have to navigate touchy situations. We are more beautiful when we interact and help and support each other.

Let’s give and serve and support each other. Not out of obligation but out of Love.

Since you excel in so many ways — you have so much faith, such gifted speakers, such knowledge, such enthusiasm, and such love for us — now I want you to excel also in this gracious ministry of giving. … This is one way to prove your love is real. … If you are really eager to give, it isn’t important how much you are able to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean you should give so much that you suffer from having too little. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help them. Then at some other time they can share with you when you need it. In this way, everyone’s needs will be met. (2 Corinthians 8:7-14)

How about you?  How do you walk about the balance between friendship and profession?  How do you give to your friends and faith community without feeling resentful?

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6 responses »

  1. I truly appreciate your thoughts. I am not someone who buys into friends shouldn’t ask friends for help. A huge part of my community is being intentional to be in each others lives, in a way that is helpful, airport runs, watching kids, helping people move etc. However, I think the balance has to come by us knowing out limits. Some days I just don’t have enough extra time to do what is being asked of me and I have to say no. I think that saying no can be tough, but I have learned to follow God’s prompting in my heart when I want to say yes, but He is clear that it is not in his task list for me to be the one to meet that need.
    I also thnk that the balance of work and favor can be a hard one to find. I am not trying to mke a living doing anything people would pay money for, but i have a lot of respect for friends who are photogrphers or hair stylists who do not give their services for free. I am willing to pay for their time because I appreciate that their work is how they make a living and that I am getting a service that it quality and worth the money. If I am not willing to pay the price then clearly I don’t really need the product. I think that if you want to set up a boundary for yourself you have to know what your time and money is worth. You can choose to impliment a friend discount to make yourself available but I don’t consider that it mean you are not being a good friend if you ask for some compensation for your time.
    It’s a tricky balance. But in my opinion a favour and a service are different things. I want to be a friend you can ask for favours just becasue, and I feel blessed to have people to ask them of, but a service is a larger commitment of time and use of skills I have spent money and time to aquire, and for this I believe people can be asked for payment.- honestly I think people can appreciate the ervice youa re providing even more.

    Wishing you peace as you find the balance in your life, friend x

    • I don’t know why, but this comment made me think of something that throws a wrench in my way of thinking (which is good =p)… “A service is a larger commitment of time and use of skills I have spent money and time to acquire, and for this I believe people can be asked for payment.” LOVE THIS comment.

      But it begs the question. I’ve spent lots of time and money as a musician. Should I expect to be compensated to play at church? Why not? Isn’t it really a group of friends asking me for a service?

      Then again, it’s more like my family asking for my services, and I’d never accept money to play at my family reunion… but then, we’re back at square one, because any of those people can ask you to do website stuff and expect it for free since it’s “for the church”.

      Honestly, I don’t like spending time in the presence of those who constantly criticize “the church”, but one thing I find valid about those complaints is that the church doesn’t value people’s gifts. Any other organization would NEVER expect to get people’s services for free. Any other organization wouldn’t ask for a volunteer, then ask that volunteer for more and more and more time.

      But there is no other organization like the church, and no organization who does what the church does, so maybe the comparison isn’t valid.

      Love to hear more of your thoughts.

  2. Your friend gave really good advise, I think… When you put a limit on it, not only does everyone share an expectation, but it gives you a free out, and if you want to stay after and do more work, good for you.

    I flip it around… Friends should do things to help each other… like support your freelance work and value you enough to pay you. I expect to be able to call on my friends to help me when I need, but I also think to myself, “I am their friend, and as their friend I want their business to succeed, so I’m going to support them by paying them/giving them a great review/offering feedback if requested.”

    Ultimately, isn’t friendship supposed to be reciprocal? The Greek definition of friendship was based on a statue of three goddesses dancing called “grace”, and people would do what is called the “dance of grace”. It was the idea that if I gave you a gift, I was to give expecting nothing in return. But if you receive a gift from me, you should receive expecting to reciprocate. And that is called “grace”.

    If one side doesn’t follow the code, the dance of grace fails. And when nobody is dancing, the party pretty much sucks and everyone wants to go home… Don’t ruin the party, reciprocate the grace!

    Great post, as always! =)

    • Thank you Kevin. Agreed! So many layers to this things called friendship. Totally dig bouncing this stuff around. Thanks for being part of my blogging community and real life community too.

      • Hey now, this is 2012. Your digital community IS your real life community… they are both just as valid!

        But I get what you’re saying, and I totally love being a part of any community you’re a part of! =)

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