Monday, March 29, 2010

'If You Need Anything Call Me' - Not Helpful

How many times have I said to someone who was struggling, 'Let me know if you need any help. Really. I mean it.' Hundreds? At least. Turns out that is NOT actually helping those who suffer.

I am not a naturally empathetic person around the sick, suffering or hurting. More like 'concerned but awkward'. So this post by Ed Welch on CCEF's webpage really helped me deeply.

I need this prescription. Hope it spurs you on to go on and simply help people who are suffering rather than thinking they will ask.

"Here is something that I have heard a number of times on the “Not Helpful” list. I have heard it often enough that it deserves to become part of our body of pastoral wisdom.
“If you need anything, please call me—anytime.”
"Sufferers are usually gracious and give us a lot of slack for thoughtless remarks, so I was surprised when this became a theme. Those who mentioned it didn’t say that the comment was meaningless to them, though it was. They said that it was actually unhelpful. Why? I usually don’t ask that question, but I can piece together some of the answers.
  • If “comforters” knew anything about real hardship, they would know that sufferers usually don’t know what they want or need.[surprising to me but makes sense]
  • If comforters knew anything about the sufferer, they would know what the sufferer wants or needs. [guilty of not looking too hard]
  • If comforters really knew the sufferer, they would know that he or she would never make the call. Never.
"The speaker is not giving any real thought to the comforter’s needs and circumstances, and the suffering person knows it.

"That’s the bad news. The good news, of course, is that the same people who have heard the “call me” comment have also been blessed by friends who do the opposite: these friends don’t wait to be called, they just figure out what needs to be done and they do it. [Wow! That is smart and kind!]

"First, they listen and understand the suffering person. They pick up on to-do lists that are growing and impossible. They identify tasks that are especially important. They don’t barge in and do trivial work or serve in ways that leave more disarray....  A good friend can identify what would be truly helpful.

"Next, they do it. They get the dog groomed, do the dishes, drop off a meal, cut the grass, baby sit the kids, bring a meal over and eat it together, clean the house, give a ride to small group, drop off a note of encouragement and then another and another, arrange for a hair cut, and so on.

"Any of these acts of love and service make life easier for the suffering person. That certainly helps. But a meal is never just a meal; maid-service is never merely maid-service. These say to the suffering person, “I remember you,” “I think about you often,” “you are not forgotten, you are on my heart,” “I love you.” That, as they say, is priceless.

"When in doubt, and you are concerned that you might unknowingly rearrange the library; you can get ideas from those who know the sufferer best. There is nothing wrong with the direct approach and ask the suffering person, “Would it help if I ______?” That’s great, but realize that he or she will demur.

"What commends the approach in which you ask friends and family is that you give even more thought to the suffering person’s interests and needs. It is the time you give to creative strategizing that is the power behind these acts. That is unmistakable love that mimics the strategic planning of the triune God’s rescue mission. He planned and acted even before we knew our real needs. [Wow.]

"We can say that there is indeed more misery around us than we know, but may those who experience misery be able to say that there is more comfort available than they imagined, and may they say that God often uses people as angels of comfort."

That is actually helpful.

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