The most important lesson I’ve learned about helping others: the more specific you are, the more helpful you are.

In the last decade of ministry, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said (or texted), “Let me know what I can do to help!” And I meant it every time. I really did want to help! But I’ve stopped saying it. After going through our own tough times recently, I realized my offer to help wasn’t really that helpful.

When someone is overwhelmed, sad, or sick, one of the last things they want to do is make another decision. So I’ve replaced that go-to phrase with something like,

  • “I’m making tacos this weekend and I know how much you like them. What night can I bring some over?”
  • “I’m taking my kids to the park this afternoon. Can we swing by and pick up your kids so they can play with us?”
  • “I’m running to the grocery store this afternoon. What can I pick up for you?”
  • “Lee is mowing our yard on Saturday. Need him to come by and mow your yard too? It’s no trouble.”
  • “Here are a few links to articles on what we talked about the other day. The one I listed first looks especially interesting.”

See the difference? The big decision is already made. Part of the work has already been done (dinner cooked, trip to the store planned). The person I’m offering to help only needs to make a small decision. If the answer is no, I try again in a few days with another idea.

Plus, the better I know the person, the more specific my help can be. One friend may love a stack of magazines to read while she’s on bed rest. Another would rather borrow a stack of movies.

Offering to help isn’t wrong, but if I can help my friend even more by offering something specific, I’m happy to take one more decision off her plate!

(Looking for the perfect meal to take to someone? I’ve got a Pinterest board with ideas!)

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