A Different Way of Looking at Offering Help

We all at one point or another in our lives find ourselves needing help. I truly believe that we are made to live in community with one another, that we were made to be helping and serving one another and that none of us can get through this crazy thing called life without help now and again. Right now Bryan and I find ourselves in a season where we are particularly needy. We definitely need help. We are barely keeping our head above the water. I know that. And I know that there are a lot of things that we need. But, I am never quite sure how to respond to people when they offer to help.

For starters, there are of course my own insecurities and feelings of guilt that are stirred by these offers. I don’t feel that I am to proud to accept help, that isn’t exactly the struggle for me. My person struggle is more with guilt - feeling bad for the person who is giving, like they are sacrificing too much, or feeling like there are others who need their help more than I do, others who are more deserving of their help. Those things get in the way of me accepting help.

There are lots of posts out there in the world about how those of us in crisis need to learn how to accept help - how we need to get over our feelings of pride or guilt and learn to allow others the privilege of giving. And they are right, I do need to get better at accepting help. But, as I’ve walked through this new season of crisis I have also learned that perhaps we all also need to get better at how we offer help to those who are hurting.

Lately we've gotten a lot of people offering to help us "if there is anything that we need."

When I hear this sort of offer it's difficult for me to gauge what level of help and commitment they are really offering. Are they just trying to communicate that they hurt with us and want us to know we aren't alone or are they really offering tangible help? If they are really wanting to help in tangible ways to what extent are they willing to sacrifice on our behalf? Is their desire on the bring-a-meal-level or would they be willing to watch our kids over night so we can sleep?

There are lots of different ways people can help, each with a different level of sacrifice, and often offering help is simply an understood way that we as a society communicate that we care and feel for the person hurting (and personally I really don't think that there's anything wrong with that - it feels good to have people offer their help even when I can tell that the person offering never really expects to be called on in a tangible way, it still means that they feel for us and that is appreciated).

Even when I can tell that the person offering help truly wants to walk with us on this road and give tangible help it is difficult for me to come up with a way they can help. When everything in your life is overwhelming, when you are being hit on all sides with one thing after another, it is very difficult to even recognize where you need help most.

But, I'm beginning to learn something as I walk through this most difficult season of my life and it’s something I plan on utilizing when others around me are hurting and I want to help them. Here it is:

General and vague offers of help are easy to ignore. Specific offers of help are easy to accept.

I need help. I am struggling just to function most days. I often tell myself I don't have it as bad as others, I'm not the one going through cancer, I should be able to still function and keep up with my normal responsibilities, but the truth is I can't. I'm not superwoman. I'm hurting. I'm stressed. And being caregiver to everyone is catching up to me. I need help. But when someone offers "to help" it puts me in a position to play coordinator, to have one more responsibility, which isn't really what I need.

However, something really different happens when someone instead offers specific help. When the help being offered is specific I don’t have to coordinate anything, I don’t have to come up with an idea for how someone can help, in fact I don’t have to think at all! All I have to do is say YES!

Here are some examples of specific help people have offered us:

  • When our church in Seattle said they wanted to help pay for some of Bryan's treatment.
  • When a close family friend brought us a laundry basket full of toilet paper, dish soap, detergent, paper towels and other household necessities so that we didn't have to think about getting that stuff for our new place.
  • When someone offered to bring us a meal so that for at least one day I didn't have to deal with that nagging and stress inducing question "what's for dinner?"
  • When my parents offered to help us buy a few furniture pieces that we didn't have yet to furnish our new place.
  • When a dear friend offered to organize 24 hours of prayer for us.
  • When an old friend from high school who is now a photographer offered to take family photos for us.
  • When a friend from church got us a CSA box full of fresh organic fruits and vegetables.

These are very specific offers of help. Each was specific not only to a need we had but to the person giving. Offering specific help means that people can help in ways that aren’t just specific to the person in need, they can help in ways that fit with who they are and how they are wired as well.

One thing I’ve learned is that if I want to help someone in need it is sometimes best to think first of what I can give and then think of what they need. I know that sounds backwards - doesn’t it? I mean we are trained from a young age that when we are giving a gift we should think first of the person we are giving the gift to instead of thinking of ourselves (what we can give or what we would like). But, when providing help for someone in need I think that we need to reverse that - we need to think first about what we would want if we were in their situation and what we are willing and able to give and then we need to do that for them. Because often they won’t be capable of thinking through what they really need for themselves (or at least I know I haven’t been).

For example, right now I don’t have a lot of anything to give, but I have a friend who is hurting as her husband also struggles through an aggressive cancer. I want to help, I want to be there for her, but I have little time and we live thousands of miles apart. I often feel helpless when I think of her. But, I’m realizing that if I get specific with my help there are still things I can do for her. I can still shoot off an email with a little encouragement. I can still pray for her husband whenever I pray for my own. I can still send them a little money and hope that it helps with some of the medical bills that I know pile up all to quickly.

I know that for me the way I approach offering others help during times of crisis will be forever different because of having gone through my own season of crisis.

How about you, have you ever experienced a season of crisis where people offered a lot of help? How did you handle accepting that help? Was it easy or hard for you, where there things that made it easier for you to accept help?

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany