When you want to help others, instead of asking “how can I help?”, a better thing to do is offer a specific solution instead. It will lift a burden for those who don’t yet know what they need. Listen to an example in today’s show.

Many people are going through a rough time

The other day I received an email from Connie, a newer listener to this podcast. Her subject line read, “Not only am I enjoying them.” She continued with

I pass them on to others, many going through tough times in their lives. Health issues, loss of loved ones, isolation, and loneliness.

It has been harder for many to adapt to these past two years and your talks are positive, gentle, and encouraging with a welcoming voice. Relationship building is huge and your podcasts shine a light on any weakness and how one can do better! I am listening, so keep them coming.

This one’s for you, Connie

In recent episodes I’ve been talking about how we can help people like those Connie describes, people dealing with health issues, loss of loved ones, isolation, and loneliness. We often don’t know what to do or say to people like this. Often we’ll say things like “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” I know I’ve said this a number of times.

The problem with this well-meaning offer of help is that many times people don’t know what they need. Or they are overwhelmed with whatever they’re dealing with. So when you ask, “what can I do to help? “ You’ve just created a job for them. You’ve given them a task, namely, to think about what they need and then contact you to meet that need. In times of stress that can be daunting for people.

A better thing to do

I’ll give you an example of a different approach that I saw in my wife Janet the other day. One morning after reading a passage of scripture about doing good for people, the Holy Spirit prompted her to say to me, “I think we should get together with Linda.”

This was soon after Linda (which isn’t her real name. I changed it for privacy reasons) had initiated contact with us to tell us about her 40-something daughter’s serious health condition. We knew this turn of events was deeply disturbing to Linda, and while many people were there to support her daughter, we wondered if Linda was getting the emotional support she needed.

So Janet contacted her and made arrangements for us to pick her up and take her out to dinner. Being the classy people we are, we took her to a grocery store and chose from the limited menu that went with their limited seating.

Everyone has a story

As we talked for some time, and heard what was on Linda’s heart she mentioned, “Everyone has a story. For now, I’m going back to the large church I was attending because some of the people still there know my story. I need to be with people who know my story.” We know Linda’s story, too. She’s a rather private person and to know her story is a great privilege.

During the course of our conversation, Janet asked Linda how the Meal Train program was going for the family. This is where people volunteer online to prepare and deliver meals at designated times for a family. Linda said it was very helpful because when you’re dealing with a health crisis in the household, the last thing you want to think about is preparing meals.

But then Linda mentioned her son-in-law was going through a lot of organic fruits and vegetables he runs through their juicer for the liquid diet his wife is on. She said it was getting expensive.

Listen well and you’ll discover specific needs

Janet then asked Linda, if they needed money for these fruits and vegetables. Linda said, “yes.”

It was a specific need Janet asked about, which is a better way of asking to help others than “how can I help?”

Without giving it a second thought, Janet reached into her purse and pulled out all of the $30 she had with her and gave it to Linda. It was a minor miracle Janet even had $30 at all, as she rarely carries any cash.

“Here give this to your son-in-law to feed the juicer,” she said. While having the cash on hand was a miracle, giving it away was not. It’s Janet’s m.o. She’s been generous like this since I first met her in her father’s garage when we were 13.

We talked about this afterward and remarked how it seemed easier to get the money to its intended recipient through an intermediary like Linda. It was less awkward than giving the money directly to Linda’s son-in-law.

A deja vu moment

On the way home after our time with Linda, I had a flashback to a similar situation that happened a long time ago. We were in the early days of our missionary care ministry and trying to raise support. We happened to be in Greenville, SC visiting our daughter where she had recently moved.

During our time there Jennifer arranged for us to meet a pastor who was the brother of one her good friends. So we got together with Kerry and his wife Cynthia for breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe. They told us part of their story, and we shared part of ours, this new venture we were on starting a missionary care ministry.

As we were getting ready to leave, Cynthia reached into her purse, and pulled out what I recall to be $30 and said, “Here, take this. I want you to use it for your ministry. It’s all I have right now.” We were shocked at her kindness and generosity. I hadn’t thought about this event in many years, but the picture of it rose to the surface in seeing Janet do the same thing with Linda.

Months later we learned that Kerry’s position at the church was eliminated. He eventually became an Anglican priest and pastored a church in Cairo, Egypt for a few years. Kerry and Cynthia now lead a church in Amsterdam.

So Cynthia, if you’re listening, your legacy of generosity lives on!

The day after

Back to our story about Linda. The next day after our dinner at the grocery store, Linda sent Janet and me this text:

Thank you so much for last night.
Thank you for picking me up.
Thank you for loving me so tenderly in Christ.
Thank you for letting the tears flow.
Thank you for making me laugh.
Such loving friends like you, along with tears and laughter, are so good for the soul.

Knowing that you’re here means more to me than you’ll ever know. You are diamonds in the treasure box of friendship.

So what does all this mean for YOU?

Here are a few random thoughts I hope you walk away with:

  • Every now and then it’s a good idea to put yourself in other people’s shoes and to think “What might it be like to be them right now?”
  • Be open to hearing from the Holy Spirit to help you to help others
  • Instead of asking how you could help someone, take a guess and ask a closed-ended question, Would you like me to do X? Would you like me to do Y?
  • To help others, observe what other people are doing to care for people, and then do something different.
  • Don’t let people go through hard times alone. Remember the quote for the movie The Soloist: “All he wants from you is to show up.”
  • In whatever you do always reflect the image and character of God
  • Think of how you’ve been blessed in the past, and pay it forward by doing the same thing for others
  • As always,listen. Both with your ears, and your eyes
Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode

Instead of asking a friend in need what you can do to help, a better thing to do to help others is to ask a closed-end question like, “Would you like me to ______?” The more specific a solution you suggest, the better. It lifts a burden from their shoulders and puts it on yours.

As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode.


That’s it for today. In the meantime, bring a measure of joy into the lives of others this week by spreading a little relational sunshine around you. Until we meet up again next time, goodbye for now.

Related episodes you may want to listen to

149: What Do I Say to Them?

148: What Not to Say When Bad Things Happen to Good People

139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?

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