UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Little requests; big time commitment

You began by helping an elderly neighbour with her lawn. Then you agreed to buy a few groceries, fix her cabinets and clean her eaves. Now she phones twice daily, and her “little requests” take a lot of your time. She has no family and no one else to support her. What do you do?

By Lee Simpson and Kevin Little

Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.


No good deed goes unpunished, say the cynics. But that’s one book. Our Book says you are your brother’s keeper. Or at minimum it poses that infamous rhetorical question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). There isn’t any way out of this on an ethical basis, but there is more than one way around it. If the time spent on your neighbour is impinging on your ability to do good for others, including your own family, you need to gently disengage. First you must sit down and have a heart-to-heart with her.

It is a truism, but money often rears its ugly head in these situations. The naturally frugal habits of a lifetime nurtured in the Depression can lead to non-essential penny- pinching. A lifetime of having a husband, son or brother to take care of maintenance can make an elderly woman unnecessarily dependent. You need to ascertain this, though it is not easy to ask outright if your neighbour’s budget can cover basic maintenance. A frank conversation over a cup of tea might elicit the response you require. Alternatively, you may find that it is the companionship you are offering that is precious to her, above and beyond the yard work.

Once you have determined whether the issue is financial, social or simply a habit of dependence, you can tactfully help her find her own solution.

If the need is companionship, check whether your church has a seniors, visiting team. If money is an issue, perhaps the youth group is seeking projects. Beyond your church, there are social service agencies that will help with everything from telephone visiting to yard work. Many are available free to seniors. This will take a bit of research, but remember: an hour or two now will save a lot of snow shovelling later. You will also have given your neighbour the means and tools to remain independent longer. Definitely a fair exchange.

Author's photo
Rev. Kevin Little is a minister at St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon, N.S.


What is the motivation to follow through on all these requests? What is the motivation to deny them? Some people are motivated by the need to be needed and will do everything humanly possible. But should the elderly neighbour fail to offer unfailing gratitude, the needy servant will become angry, resentful and passive-aggressive.

Others are motivated by a strong need to avoid extra commitments, to free up as much time for themselves as possible. Reasoning that our 40-hour workweek and family commitments are plenty to give to others, we can be excessively protective of our time.

Here’s a test: if my neighbour becomes irate the first time I tell her that I can’t do something for her, I know this relationship has become unhealthy. It needs to be remedied with some honest dialogue. I would explain I have other responsibilities — family, work, friends, discipleship — and though I am eager and delighted to help, I simply cannot respond every time she needs me.

On the other hand, if she completely understands, I will know this is a healthy relationship: one based on compassion, self-respect and maturity.

My experience in ministry and in life is that 99 percent of the time these requests are reasonable and a joy to fulfil. The elderly neighbour almost always understands the limitations of my time and energy.

The Gospels tell us that when we meet a person in need, we often meet Jesus. That is not an invitation to a one-way, needy, resentful relationship. There is grace in giving with no expectation of response. By spending quality time with the elderly, we are reminded of our own fragility. Playing no small part in the motivation behind avoiding these requests is the desire to avoid facing our own need.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image