I often hear these days that when someone is struggling, you shouldn’t ask them how you can help because they don’t know how to answer you. They’re in shock. They’re in denial. You should just let them know how and when you’re going to be there and do it.
Perhaps you say to your friend, “You need to spend the night at my house.” Or, “I’m going to take your kids for a few hours so you can have some time to yourself.” Or even, “I’ll call in to work so I can take you to your appointment.”
I know that many times, these offers come with good intentions. I truly believe that. Yet when I hear this advice from others to just jump in without asking, I cringe, because I think it gets taken too far. We cross boundaries. We take away the rights of our friend to decide if and when she wants help. We push ourselves on her and maybe even make the matters worse.
So when is it okay to just jump in and help, and when should you hang back until your friend is in a better place to decide and let you know? Let’s explore some possibilities.
When You’re an Inner Circle Friend
If you’re going to just jump in and help your friend, regardless of what she has said she needs, then I hope that you are an inner circle friend–someone she has come to know and trust and share daily life with. (This could be a spouse, obviously, or someone in the family she is especially close with.)
By jumping in, I mean that you see a need that she has and decide how you’re going to help her without really asking her. You just do it.
- Is she short on food? Then you go buy a bunch of groceries for her.
- Is she having trouble finding reliable childcare? Then you decide to watch her kids for her, along with your own.
If you’re not an inner circle friend, then I’d like to gently remind you that you really have no place to make decisions for her. (And even as an inner circle friend, we still need to be extremely careful.) While you can certainly encourage her to go grab something to eat, try to take a nap, or some other such thing, you shouldn’t give her orders or treat her like a child.
When the Situation is Truly an Emergency
I know it’s difficult to see a hurting friend and feel like you have just the thing she needs to get better. Yet much of the healing process is full of choices–choices that your friend needs to make for herself, not that you need to make for her.
Think about your own struggles. People may have offered you all kinds of advice, both solicited and unsolicited. Yet only when you were ready did you move forward and take a step toward healing or better health or whatever it was you needed.
Or think about the grieving process. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. While one needs time surrounded by family and friends to receive comfort and talk about memories, another might need extended time alone to process and mourn and pray.
So unless it is an actual emergency where her life is in danger or someone else’s life is in danger because of her actions, perhaps give her a bit of space to figure it out for herself.
Of course, you can talk to her about her options. You can ask her questions about where her struggles are or what’s holding her back. You can listen as she shares her thoughts and feelings. But for the most part, she needs to be the one to decide to get better or to pursue healing or make whatever decisions need to be made. You can’t make those choices for her.
And if you do step in during an emergency, your goal should be to take charge only until she is ready to handle things again. For example, if she just found out a loved one passed and is taking it really hard (i.e., she is crying uncontrollably, she doesn’t really recognize anyone else in the room, etc.), then you can take her to a separate room where she has some space, is safe, and can process those emotions. You can direct others to give her some time alone. And then when she is ready, you can help her make the phone calls, decide if she needs help with childcare for the kids that night, and things of that nature.
The Need for Prayer
And honestly, other than that, I don’t know that I can think of any situation where you should just jump in and do something without asking them first.
Now, I’m not a care professional. And there really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this kind of thing. I really need you to pray about if and when to help your friend without asking first. I think you’ll know when it needs to be done and when you’re crossing the line.
I know it’s hard to wait, sometimes, until your friend is in a place to decide to accept help or to take a step toward healing. But you can still pray for them. Prayer is probably the best thing we can do in any circumstance. Intercede for your friend. Fight for her in prayer. And let God do His healing work in her life, too.