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  • BSideBecca

5 Ways NOT to Be a Help to a Friend In Need

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Whether we've faced it with family, friends or acquaintances, we've all been in situations where we've wondered how we can best help. And possibly you've been in the position of being the one that needed the support. Either way, through my own experience and talking with others, I've learned over the years about helping friends who are going through tough times. Let's start with the negative - always the best place to start on a sunny summer day, right?

Here are 5 ways NOT to be a help:

-Advice-ing: I heard the term "advice-ing" from the beautiful chef, Aarti Sequeira. She often shares biblical (devotional) thoughts on her account on Instagram, and I loved when she mentioned this term, because it so clearly defines what is often the response to someone who needs help. And you've experienced this yourself, right? Once you share your pain or story, immediately people around start giving advice. I mean, if you have ever been in a women's Bible study, you are like, oooh, girrrllll...I know exactly what this is. Someone shares a prayer request and BAM! advice starts flowing. (Our previous church went so far as to have a rule in women's groups that you could NOT share advice when someone shared a request. Love it.) Even outside of a small group situation, the truth still stands: Don't be an advice-er. My husband mentioned that for men, the same temptation to jump in and fix can arise (metaphorically, it's the idea that oh, I have a toolbox out in my garage and if only I could find the right tool, I could fix it!). The main issue with this is that someone has shared their pain with you and your immediate reply is to assume they have not pursued trying to solve the issue and your way is, like, news to them. (*insert eye roll here*) In a big way, you've minimized their pain because they weren't able to solve it in the six months (or longer) they've been dealing with it, but wow, look at you, solving it immediately!

Don't give advice. Unless you're asked for it, and even then, 99% of the time: Don't give advice.

-Your Words: "Don't just say something, stand there" is a phrase I heard shared by the author John Green, who used to work as a chaplain in a children's hospital. He was taught this phrase by his supervisor and I have to say, it's brilliant. When someone shares with you a need or some way they are hurting, try a simple: I'm sorry. That stinks. That's tough. Closely tied with the first point above, standing there in response to someone's pain is a perfectly great way to respond. Silence is okay. Letting them breathe, cry, just be with you is a perfect response. You sharing a story or one-upping them or offering advice (see point one) is not going to benefit their pain in any way. If you're at a total loss for how to respond, offering to stop and pray right then for them is a great option. (Feel awkward knowing how to pray? It's okay to admit that: "Lord, we understand this is a difficult situation with no easy answer, I pray for peace, wisdom, strength and grace for my friend who is suffering...")

As an added note, I would recommend allowing the person to vent and - here's the hard part for some - try to not respond with anything other than sympathy and an I'm sorry. I clearly remember a lady (friend) asking me about two days after my mother died a specific question about my mother's death. We had just come off taking care of my cancer-patient mother for an intense two years (if you don't even count the 15 years since my father had died during which we tried to help her out), during Covid, that had ended with an extremely frustrating experience with hospice. I -admittedly- began replying to her question with frustration in my voice. Her reply was some sort of weird rebuke on how negative I was and how "at least God had allowed me to spend time with my mother."Now that I look back, I am more disappointed in the friend for not allowing for some humanity and grief in that moment, but at the time (where I was already tired and emotionally low), I saw myself as guilty and selfish. Grief is not a sin, nor should we be afraid of it as Christians because of the hope we have within. Instead of encouraging me or helping, this friend managed to bring me even lower.

Don't just say something, stand there.

-Putting the Burden on Them to Ask: This one can be a tricky one, because you also don't want to infringe on a relationship that isn't there and get yourself involved to where you're making it harder on the person (in other words, if they don't really know you that well, and you suddenly show up and sit in their living room for three hours while they should be resting... read the room.) On the other hand, I had people I considered friends who left my family and I high and dry when we were experiencing different tough situations. It was like because we hadn't spoken up, we were forgotten. (Again, I know one of our harder situations took place during Covid, where it was more difficult to simply talk and catch up with friends... it was an inherently lonely situation made even more tough by what we were experiencing.) In a hard situation, don't wait for people to ask: Pay attention to those who are in your circles, offer to watch kids, clean house, grab dinner. It's often the practical things that get laid aside when crisis hits or grief invades. Most families have a point person (either officially designated as such, or by default - there's always one who kind of takes the reins, right?), find out who that person is and ask them. A simple text: "I have three hours of time today - what can I do?" "I'm stopping by Costco, what do you need, I can leave it on your porch." I wanted to cry when my friends showed up for food with us during the week mother was in the hospital. Enchiladas and Chicken Roll Ups feed our bodies, which gives us physical strength, which lifts our spirits. Show up with the chicken.

-Don't ignore or assume: Often we back away from pain because we don't want to make a mistake or make someone else feel awkward, but usually this ends up meaning we back so far away, we are ignoring not only the pain, but the person who needs us to show up. Don't assume you aren't needed, it's okay to ask. Or if you know general needs are being taken care of, text a verse, send a funny meme (if appropriate), mail a card. Most people feel good about talking about a loved one they've lost or want to share about what they're experiencing, so when we avoid because we "don't want to make them cry," we miss out on sharing their story with them.

-The fifth point? I've left blank for two reasons: One, I don't think helping can be "prescribed." I believe the Lord has given us different friendships and relationships for different reasons and purposes. Reaching out in times of grief or pain is one way that we, as believers, can show the love of the Lord. Ultimately, we are all humans with no answer other than the ultimate healing through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The different ways and means which God uses each one of us to lift up and help the other are beautiful, meaningful and unique to each person and each friendship. Be yourself, your friend will be thankful to know you're there. Pray and ask the Lord to guide you and show you how to help, knowing that the ultimate help is from Him. I do not believe any of us are supposed to be perfect at helping our friends, but rather our entire goal should be to point to the ultimate Comforter and Helper.

And secondly, I left this option open so that you could help me know from your experience what YOU would suggest as the fifth point. What is a way someone helped you when you were grieving or in need of help? What have you learned through helping or being the one in need of help? If you could share a point in this post, what would it be? Share in the comments below, or on the social media where you saw this post.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

-2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I 100% hesitated to write this, as I don't want to sound at all as if I know how to help, as I don't usually. I have failed friends who needed me, I have failed family who probably could have used a little less of my "help"... none of us are going to get it perfect, but we can all help each other learn.

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Liz Weddle
Liz Weddle
Jul 14, 2023

As someone who pretty recently realized that advice is not what people want when they're grieving, this was really helpful to hear. I am also in a new job where the last person always had student workers coming into her office crying, going through difficult situations, and I have been nervous about how I will handle it if it happens to me. So I might be coming back to this post regularly!

As for a way people have helped me, it's kind of similar to things you mentioned, but I really appreciate it when people listen to what I have to say, say some comforting things and then start a more light-hearted conversation that makes me laugh. I always appreciate…

Jul 21, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for your comment, Liz! That's tough when people are coming in to an office in a business situation seeking advice and help. But I know you'll be great at it. And I agree that just someone to listen and then make me laugh have been ways others have supported me! :)

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