Imagine yourself in the middle of a crowd of people with a ceramic pitcher of water cradled in your hands. There is a comforting weight to the vessel – the weight of the water sloshing around, the sense of its healing power. It feels natural in your grasp.

Someone breaks from the crowd and approaches you with an empty cup in outstretched hands. You do what comes naturally, and you pour some water from your pitcher to fill their cup. No sooner does a second figure appear with thirsty lips and an outstretched cup.

Hours turn into days and days become weeks. People continue to approach, asking for that which only you can provide. And you feel amazing. You feel useful, loving, and valued; you are comforted in knowing your purpose. There is such a grounded calm that comes when you realize that you are doing exactly what you are meant to do.

The day arrives though, when your pitcher has offered its last drop. Yet the crowd hasn’t dissipated. In fact, it feels like there are more people gathering now than there were before. Unexplainably, your pitcher feels heavier despite being empty. The endless, growing needs of others only make this realization that much more paralyzing.

You want to keep providing, but you have nothing left to give.

You face the realization that in order to keep giving to others, you must find a way to fill your pitcher. You must make the painful transition from the giver to the receiver, and seek the aid of another with water still left to give.

The guilt comes when you understand that you must stop helping others before you can continue on. You might deride yourself for not being better, or smarter, for not planning, or for not having a larger pitcher to offer in the first place. In the face of the discomfort in asking for help, it becomes awfully tempting to continue on as if nothing has changed.

The crossroads.  

Do you take time away to heal yourself, or pretend everything is ok and keep offering? Pretending might not be so bad. You wouldn’t have to change much. You can go through the motions, and perhaps you’ll even feel like you are still being helpful to another.

But deep down, if you stopped to look in their eyes…you would know that you’re pouring emptiness into their glass.

. . .

You get help. And it hurts. The guilt of being empty may linger, but it becomes more manageable. Maybe even tolerable? The process of refilling feels like it takes an eternity, and you begin to comprehend all of the fear, the uncertainty, the discomfort, and the risks involved in approaching someone for help. But it is only when you sink down into these feelings that the pathway back becomes more visible, and your pitcher begins to fill anew.

And there you return: standing in the middle of a crowd of people with that ceramic pitcher of water cradled in your hands. The weight is still there, and someone breaks from the crowd to stand before you. They hold in their palms a small empty cup. So you do the one thing that comes naturally: you pour out your water, and you help to fill their cup. And it is then that you realize how courageous they were in their asking.