It’s got nothing much to do with anything, except perhaps a loose connection to biblical counselling, but I have been seized by a sudden urge to revisit A River Runs Through It, that wonderful little book by Norman McLean, and have been googling parts of the book and the movie today. (If you are a fan of Marilynne Robinson’s novels, you might appreciate it. There are similarities of style and Paul is a type of Jack Boughton. It was put forward by the committee for the fiction Pulitzer Prize in 1977, but they decided not to award for fiction that year – perhaps because this work is not technically fiction.) There is a little passage, that I have blogged before, but so long ago that if you remember it you get a gold star for attendance and attention, in which the father, a Presbyterian Minister, is talking to his oldest son, about how to help the younger son and brother who is on a self-destructive path. I like it as a portrait of one family's difficulty in working out how to help someone they love.
“You are too young to help anybody and I am too old,” he said. “By help I don’t mean a courtesy like serving choke-cherry jelly or giving money.Then, near the close of the book, the father is giving a sermon, and he preaches:
“Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.
“So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, ‘Sorry, we are just out of that part.’”
I told him, “You make it too tough. Help doesn’t have to be anything that big.”
He asked me, “Do you think your mother helps him by buttering his rolls?”
“She might,” I told him. “In fact, yes, I think she does.”
“Do you think you help him?” he asked me.
“I try to,” I said. “My trouble is I don’t know him. In fact, one of my troubles is that I don’t even know whether he needs help. I don’t know, that’s my trouble.”
“That should have been my text,” my father said. “We are willing to help, Lord, but what if anything is needed?
“I still know how to fish,” he concluded. “Tomorrow we will go fishing with him.”
Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.