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Why Offering Help Isn’t Always Helpful (And What Actually Is)

I know that you have big hearts to help people around you when they are in need, when they are sick and when they struggle. I know this because I see you, I hear the stories out there and I have been the beneficiary of so many who have stepped into my own hardships when I needed it most. And I know you are those people because those are just the kind of people that hang in the Collide community.

So often I find that you and I want to help when we see someone we care about walking through tough times. We usually reach out and say something that sounds like “Praying for you! Let me know if you need any help.” or “Thinking of you! Is there anything I can do for you?” Here’s the deal for all of us with these big giant hearts who want to help… These questions don’t always help. And I ask them too, so this real talk is as much for me as it is for you 🙂 Since you and I are these big givers who want to lend a hand and be of assistance to our people, I thought we could chat about this…

Here are the 3 reasons why asking how you can help doesn’t always help:

  1. Most people don’t know what they need. When you just got the news that you had a miscarriage, you have no idea what will help the raw emotions you now feel. When your husband just lost his job, the ramifications have not sunk in enough for you to locate your needs. When your parents are walking through cancer and you are doing a lot of care-taking, you haven’t thought for a second about your own needs, only theirs. So often when people are right smack dab in the midst of struggle, they cannot tell us what they need. And sometimes what they need isn’t practical. What they need might not be chocolate, but chocolate sure would make them feel loved. They might not need a card and flowers, but a card and flowers sure would make them feel encouraged. They might not need a meal, but you bringing them one sure would make them feel cared for. So often we wait to help until the person in need tells us their need. And if they don’t know, our help becomes a mere offer and nothing more.
  2. Most people don’t want to burden you. The answer more often than not to the question, “Is there anything I can do to help?” is something like “Thanks for offering” or “We will be ok.” I am the queen of this. In the last month I have had two super sick kids and I feel so grateful for the amazing friends I have who offered help. And I have turned down every one of them. The only ones who got through were the ones who forced their way in and showed up at my door. So many people dropped off gatorade and cookies, soup and medicine, magazines and tea…even doorstep margaritas on Cinco de Mayo because we were shut-ins during a shutdown. And you know what? Every one of those people didn’t wait for my help request list probably because they knew it never would come. I just don’t want to burden people. And I am not alone in this. In fact, I bet you’re like this too. And so are our friends that we offer to help. They no more want to burden you than you want to burden them.
  3. Most people feel unworthy of help because they compare their story to other people and come out less needy. How many times has someone offered you help and you immediately resort to “I’m ok. There are people with waaaaay worse problems.” Did you notice no one was rating people on a problems scale to determine whether or not you make the cut? Your friend isn’t helping you because there are no other people worse off than you. They are offering to help because they love you. I just had someone text me last night and offer to bring our family a meal. My daughter is sick and my response was “Thank you but I couldn’t accept it. No one is dying and no one has cancer” almost like I have to rain check my friend’s offer for a later time when I’ll really need it. She wasn’t offering to bless me because I was in utter despair and there are no longer people dying in Africa. She was offering to bless me because she feels called to be a blessing. For some reason, we, especially as women, feel like we need to serve others but rarely will we accept service. We will give and give and give but rarely receive. We will help but say no to being helped. We will rain check that for an uber, super duper, bad, bad circumstance. Otherwise we are tough chicks who will get by and heaven forbid if we let the people who love us help us.
    So how do we best help our friends and family when they’re in need?

So how do we best help our friends and family when they’re in need?

See a need and meet it.

If we want to help people who don’t know what they need, don’t want to be a burden or will only say yes if they are on their deathbed, we might have to take notes from the people in my life who didn’t take no for an answer. They just brought a takeout dinner. They just dropped off essential oils. They just delivered a thermometer. Instead of waiting for a yes, because we may never get one, we can act on what we can guess will help. That’s the kind of help that’s helpful.

Don’t wait for the grocery list they’ll never send, go to the store and grab what you would want in their circumstance. If they are unsure what to possibly tell you to do, think of something that would be helpful and do that. Walk their dogs. Mow their lawn. Babysit their kid. Drop off diapers. Order flowers. Send a card in the mail. Show up at their door with your sick soup. No matter what, don’t just ask, but actually do (unless you’re a mother in law or you’ve been specifically told to give them space.)

If you have a friend or family struggling and they don’t know how to take you up on your offer of help, you can decide what might help, what might encourage, what might bless, or what might bring a smile to their face and do it! Not only will you be helping but you will also be busting through their inability to know what they need. Sometimes we don’t know what we need but when we experience it, we think “Awwww, I needed that.” And that feeling usually comes from the wildflowers someone else cut us from their garden, the prayer that was in our DM’s or the homemade jam we found on our welcome mat. You acting on your offer of help will not only help but it will help bust through your loved one’s fear of being a burden and feeling unworthy. You showing up at their door or in their mailbox, or in their life in some way, will tell them they’re loved, they matter and you’re there, walking right alongside them.

Oh my gosh, I kid you not. As I finish typing this sentence, my friend Anne who I turned down for dinner because no one’s dying, just busted through my help avoidance and said “We will be there at 5:30 with smoked meatloaf and mashed potatoes.” And you know what, I’m exhausted. I have been up since 3 a.m. and my kid is sick. And I had no plans for dinner. Sometimes our people’s help insistence is what we need. We need it to remind us that God’s got us when it feels like we could easily come unraveled. Thank God, He puts these kinds of people in our lives.

So, you with the big hearts to help, let’s you and I be people who show up at each other’s doors. Let’s not be big talkers, but big doers. Let’s not just offer help, but let’s actually help. Let’s be bold enough to not take no for an answer. Let’s be brave enough to put ourselves in that vulnerable place where we find ourselves standing on the front porch of someone’s life with a pan of enchiladas in our hands wondering if we have this place in these people’s lives. I’m pretty sure if we don’t have that place now, we will after they taste our meal or read our card or see our big giant heart that wants to serve, love and help! There’s so much need around us right now, let’s you and I see a need and meet it.

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