Offering help to someone is a way of extending love, friendship, and concern. As a Christian this should be occurring regularly in our church family, and then extending out into the community.
More often than not, we tend to throw out a “Call me if you need me,” or “Let me know if I can do anything” to the person in need. This is, quite frankly, not helpful. I have fallen into the trap of saying these generic, off the cuff statements far too many times.
Why are these generic comments not helpful?
- It leaves the receiver feeling indebted (assuming they actually ask). We could have a long debate about whether we should feel indebted or not, but let’s just cut to the chase. If someone offers me help out of the blue, I tend to think of it as just a simple act of kindness. I might want to return a kindness later, but I don’t feel indebted. When I have to ask someone, I often want to say, “when I’m feeling better, I’d love to exchange the favor.” There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but so many times we rob the giver of the joy and blessing of simply offering kindness by having a feeling of indebtedness. When you as a giver, leave the door open only for a request, the whole tone of the help changes.
- The receiver does not always know what extent of help you are able to extend. What exactly does the person mean by help? Some people don’t have a lot of money, but would be more than willing to give their time to the person in need. Others don’t have a lot of time, but would be happy to put out $20 for a takeout meal. Putting the request in the hands of the receiver leaves them wondering what you mean, and could potentially put you in a position of not being able to follow through. Awkward all the way around.
- The receiver may not know what they need. I know that many times the help that was most meaningful to me was something I would never have thought to ask for. When a person is in the midst of a difficult situation or trial, they may not even know that they need any help at all, let alone what kind of help.
Here are some things I have learned about offering help mostly from observing others.
1. Offer Specific Help.
When statements are too general, they often lack feet to the talk. Saying something like, “I’d like to bring a meal on Thursday” is much better than “I could bring a meal sometime.”
And, please don’t say, “Call me if you would like a meal.” Let’s just be real. I am not sick, have not just had a baby, and am perfectly capable of fixing meals for my family, but I would still do a happy dance if I didn’t have to cook one night. Of course they would like a meal. The likelihood of someone actually calling you is pretty slim, and probably is only if they are very desperate and should have been getting help much, much sooner.
There are so many ways you can phrase the statement that will almost always guarantee a, “Yes, that would be so helpful!” Be specific and don’t leave the person wondering what you actually mean by help.
2. Make it about them, not you.
It is surprising to me how many times I have seen people get offended when they were told that the help that was genuinely needed was different from what they wanted to give.
If we are showing kindness to someone, it should be because we want to be of service to them. Not, that we are fulfilling our own agenda of how we want to help.
If you are not sure, ask someone that is closer to the situation. A relative, your church leadership, or a close friend of the person all might have some information that would help you know how you can be of service.
Ask a friend that has been through a similar situation what would be of help. While every situation varies, asking someone who has had a miscarriage, lost a child, lost a spouse, has a chronic illness, etc. can give you valuable insight into how to offer help. They can also give you a heads up on what things not to say. Make your help about the person, not you.
Also, respect the level of comfort you have with the person. If you don’t know them very well, stick to a meal. Don’t offer to watch someone’s children unless you are confident they would be comfortable leaving them with you. Just take that from a mom, okay?
3. Think before offering.
You see someone at church and you are suddenly reminded of a need. You quickly, and in vague, general terms, offer “help.”
You see a Facebook status that would indicate someone could use a hand, and without a moment’s hesitation you comment, “Let me know if you need anything.”
I shouldn’t have to say this, but this happens so often that I am going to spell it out. Words mean nothing if there is no action.
Next time someone is in need of help, pause a moment first. Think through what you could actually do, and then purposely and specifically offer help. Hold the generic comment at church or on Facebook, and pick up the phone and give them a call. It will mean so much more.
4. Don’t underestimate the small things.
Depending on the situation, meals, childcare, shopping, cleaning, or money might be in order. But so often we forget the simple act of being there for someone. Calling someone and letting them know you are thinking about them in their situation. Writing a card. Dropping off a coffee. Leaving something fun at their door. Showing small acts of kindness is becoming a lost art.
It doesn’t have to be big. Knowing someone cares and is thinking about them is often gift enough. Do something. However small.
What are some meaningful ways you have offered or been offered help?