A sincere spiritual seeker once asked a renowned rabbi, “What is the most important prayer in the Jewish tradition?” Expecting the rabbi to state the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.9 – “the Lord our God is one” – the centerpiece of morning and evening prayers), he surprised her by replying, “It is much like the kyrie of the Christian tradition: Lord, have mercy.”

HELP!!!!!!“The most important prayer,” said the rabbi with a sparkle in his eyes, “is HELP!”

My six weeks of recovery from rotator cuff surgery have provided many opportunities to ask for help. I’m actually starting to like it. Last week I asked the acupuncturist who works down the hall if he had an umbrella I could borrow for a few minutes. He seemed delighted to run down to his car to check. When he came back empty handed, he apologized.  He was disappointed that he couldn’t help me!  How about that?!?

The instinct to help is deeply wired into our human nature.  Long before researchers began to study the psychological and evolutionary roots of compassion, Jesus was teaching about it.   In fact, all the great religions teach some form of the golden rule:  love your neighbor as yourself.  We provide our neighbors an opportunity to fulfill an essential part of their humanity when we ask for help. And we deprive them of that opportunity when we refuse to ask for help!

Help is available – both divine and human. Of course, we don’t always get the hoped for outcome. A wisdom teaching regarding prayer says there are three answers to our prayers:

1.) yes

2.) no

3.) I’ve got something better in mind!

When the answer is no, I choose to believe that number three is on the horizon.  In recent days I’m discovering that the outcome of my asking isn’t as important as the bridges of love — of our shared need to both love and be loved — built through asking. My neighbor didn’t give me an umbrella.  He gave me the gift of concern and care, the gift of love.

What kind of help do you need today? Have you risked asking God or your neighbor for help?

If the answer isn’t the one you hope for, trust that something better is on the horizon.  And open your heart to whatever bridge of love wants to meet you in your place of need.