Have you been the one saying the same phrase to someone going through a difficult time?
How many times have they actually gotten back to you to let you know what they really needed?
When we learn that a friend or a loved one or even somebody we don't know so well is going through a trial (loss of a loved one, loss of health, loss of means of income...), we would love to do something.
It is natural to say " Let me know if you need anything!".
This is a really nice phrase, but before we say it, especially if we really mean it, we should think about the effect it can have on the person in need.
"What can my friend do for me" and also find the strenght and the firmness of mind to actually ask, no matter how much they mean it, it is just another burden to bear.
So how do you let your loved one(s) know that you REALLY are there for him/her/them?
First of all, Pray.
Pray like you really mean it. Ask the Lord specifically how He can use you to lift the burden that has been placed on that person, and then be ready to act on any prompting you might have"
Second, let them know you have been praying for them, even more, let them know what you have been praying about.
(If you are not a religious person, you can always think deeply about them, and let them know that they have been in your thoughts)
Third, just be there. Have your eyes, ears, mind, heart open so that you can see a need, fill a need.
Need some ideas?
Whether you live closed to them or far away, there is something in this list that you could do:
- Send a card. Send more than one.
- Write an email. Write more than one.
- Make a phone call (but make sure the person has the desire/strenght to talk with anyone)
- Offer a shoulder to cry on (litterally or figuratively)
- Hug them (but don't overwhelm them!)
- Are they or their loved ones in the hospital? Go visit them, and if they could use the company, play cards with them, bring a movie, share a story, make them laugh. Take care of their mail.
- Is someone having surgery? Be with the loved one in the waiting room, or watch their kids. If you are far away or that person prefers to be alone, send text messages, inspiring thoughts on facebook, keep praying for them.
- Stop by the house and offer to bring groceries (food might be the last thought when you are filled with worries)
- Offer to get the kids out of the house (sometimes you need time to be alone and think, or to be with your spouse and figure out things together without kids being kids, and the kids need time to just be kids and not worry about what the family is going through; knowing that there is someone beside their parent(s) that cares about them can be such a comfort for them!)
- Do their yard work (who has time to mow, trim edges and/or water a garden when there are much higher priorities?)
- Is there anything broken that needs to be fixed? Fences, doors, windows, roof, driveway, if you have the ability and the tools to do it, or if you know who to call for it that could volunteer some of their time and talents, take care of it... Chances are, if that trial has been going on for a while, there was no time to take care of anything else (not to mention the burden that nasty HOA letters bring to the family in need)
- Bring a meal (make sure you know about any food sensitivities/restrictions, and if possible opt for freezer friendly meals and/or fresh fruit and vegetables, and make sure to gather efforst with other people and spread the help through several days/weeks if needed).
- If the person is ok with it, do their laundry, wash their dishes, sweep their floor, change their baby's diaper or anything that might be needed (please respect it when a person kindly declines this kind of help. Some people are just private about their homes, and they might just feel uncomfortable having someone else go throught their dirty dishes, clothes, etc especially if they had not been able to properly take care of them for a long time).
- Put together a care package (if you can, try to tailor it to specific needs: Is your friend a health freak? Is anyone in the family allergic to something? What is their favorite treat/snack? Do they only use natural products or they like anything that smells good? Do they collect something? What books do they read? What kind of movies? Do they like flowers? Do they like them cut or in a pot? Is there any food that is difficult for them to get where they are? Is there anything that could remind them of home? Could a trip to the movies, zoo, cultural even brighten their day? )
- Do their children need a ride to school, to practice, to the dr? If you can, be around enough to know when such needs arise.
- Does this person or any other member of his/her household have a business? More than likely during this trial they have not been able to focus on it, they might have been loosing customers, or publicity: support them in that business, in any way you can think of (buy their products, bring referrals, share online etc).
- Can that person drive? Maybe because of health condition or car accident that person cannot drive: offer to give them rides, to the store, to the beach, to their job place.
- Is there any burocratic stuff that needs to be taken care of? There is nothing worst, when you are grieving or worrying about your sick loved one, or your own health, than having to deal with medical bills, payments, documents, or any other similar things. If you have any kind of experience with it, offer to do it for them.
- If the person is ok with the publicity, you can start a fundraiser for them. If not, you could collect money and then privately bring it to them, or bring it to their church or community leader (a thoughtful card is always a great addition, and allows the receiver to feel better about receiving money that they did not work for).
- If there is a funeral involved, chances are there are going to be lots of family in town. Bring a meal, bring plastic paper and cups, bring toilet paper, diapers, wipes, toothbrushes! If the house is not big enough for the amount of people that are going to be there, offer to host some of the family members. Offer to go pick them up at the airport! Do you have extra air miles? Offer to get the ticket for a family member that could not otherwise be there.
- When things seem to be getting better, don't forget about them. The situation might be improving, but it could also happen that the person(s) is tired to talk about the trial.
- Offer to run errands for them or watch their kids and/or pets while they get back on their feet, or while they take a much needed break.
- Show that you enjoy their company, they are not just a charity case.
- Don't judge! You will never be able to completely understand why someone is in the situation they are in. Everyone's trial is their own, we only need to be there for them with a open heart, (and closed eyes, if needed).
- Ask: "Can I do anything else?". Chances are, if the person you have served has been able to see how much you have enjoyed serving him/her, they might actually ask you for help next time.
- If you say that you are going to do something, do it! If for some reason you can't anymore, explain it, and if you can do something else to make up for it, do it. When you are in need, it is pretty heart breaking when you trust someone to help you and then they bail on you.
There is so much more that can be added to this list, and I will probably add to it as my life experiences grow.
And remember, we might not be able to help everyone, but we can ALWAYS help someone.
Serving someone in need will not only benefit the receiver, but will bless the giver ten times fold.
A person might not feel like asking you to do a mile with him/her, but if your eyes are open and you are going the second mile anyway, your heart is going to be bigger, and you will be one of the amazing people that make the world a better place by being God's hands in action.