Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another. My name is Kari Bartkus and I’m the founder of Love Does That, where I equip Christian women to care for their loved ones in times of grief. And this podcast is an outreach of that, a way to help you answer the questions of “What do I say?” and “What do I do?” when your friend is hurting.
And today, we are going to dive into a really challenging situation. And how we respond in this situation is vital in supporting our friends who are going through difficult times. If we don’t handle this situation in a loving way, it will actually push our friends away, and we certainly don’t want that.
So here it is. Are you ready? Here’s the question: What do you do when you offer help to a friend who is going through a difficult time, and they say “no”? How do you handle that?
Do you take offense? Maybe you get frustrated with her, because, after all, it took a lot for you to rearrange your schedule so you can do something for her. And now she isn’t letting you help. All that work for nothing.
Or maybe you’re confused. You thought your friend needed some help but, here she is, declining your offer. What’s going on? Is it you? Did you do something wrong?
Or maybe you shrug it off or begin to think she really isn’t struggling as much as you thought she was. Like, “I thought you were hurting, but I guess you’re not since you don’t need any help, so I’m going to treat you like I normally do.”
How do you respond? What goes through your mind?
I know there are so many emotions and thoughts that can bombard us when a friend turns down our offer to help. But today, I want to help you think through why they may not be in a place to accept help right now, as well as some tips that will help us respond in a healthy and God-honoring way.
Because, again, if we don’t respond well, we will damage the relationship and push our friend away instead of creating a safe place where she can heal. It’s so important that we get this right.
Now, today’s episode is part of a series about how to respond in different situations we encounter when it comes to encouraging and caring for our friends who are hurting. Last week, we answered the question, “How do I respond when someone asks me about my friend who is hurting?” In other words, how much information about your friend do you share? I walked you through an example and provided some verbal cues for you to use in case you are caught in that situation. So if you haven’t listened to that yet, be sure to do that when this episode is done.
Today, we’re focusing on the question, “How do I respond when a friend won’t let me help?”
Friends, I know it’s challenging not to take this personally, because it does, indeed, feel like a personal rejection. And it hurts.
But the truth is, this is a normal response. And it’s okay.
It’s okay for someone to decline your offer to help. It’s okay for someone to take some space while they work some things out. It’s okay for someone to just not be ready to let others in yet.
While others can definitely relate to the pain and hurt we are experiencing, no one else can ever truly know it in every detail. Proverbs 14:10 (ERV) says, “When you are sad, no one else feels the pain; and when you are happy, no one else can really feel the joy.” And for someone who is grieving or hurting, it can be hard to explain that to other people. Sometimes there are no words. Some might relate, but no one truly understands.
Here’s another reason: while God certainly uses us to bring love and comfort and healing to others—I wouldn’t be hosting this podcast if I didn’t believe that; that’s why He tells us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 NLT)—I need you to realize that there are some things that only God can do. And sometimes, a person needs to be alone with God for an extended period of time to let this healing take place. Even if she continues on with life as normal on the outside, going to work or taking kids to practice, she might, in her heart, be withdrawn into a sacred space to be with God. She has retreated, in a sense, from the world and her friendships to be with God. And that is okay.
There are other reasons your friend may not be ready to accept help yet. Maybe she is ashamed or embarrassed about what is going on. Even when a situation isn’t your fault, like if you’re the victim of abuse or bullying, it can be so incredibly difficult to share that with others because it’s shaming. It’s humiliating. And your friend might need to work through some of that before she is ready to talk to you about it or admit that she needs help from you.
Or maybe your friend was betrayed by someone she really trusted, and so now she is wary of all her relationships, including yours. You are paying the price for someone else’s actions. And while that is not fun, from her perspective, it makes sense to go into self-protection mode for a little while to determine who she can really trust. Be patient with her. Be willing to show her that she can trust you.
Or maybe your friend is more on the introverted side, and so she processes things on her own and needs that quiet space to heal and pray and figure things out. It’s not necessarily that she doesn’t value your friendship, it’s just that maybe all the outward noise makes it hard for her to figure out how to move forward.
There are plenty of other reasons, too. Maybe she’s getting help from someone else. Maybe she feels guilty asking for help or accepting it. (Go back to episode 11 to hear more about that.)
Whatever the case, remember, it’s okay for someone to decline your offer of help. So how do you respond when this happens?
First, accept her answer. Respect the fact that she gets to decide what help she receives, when she receives it, and from whom. That’s her choice. You don’t get to make that decision for her. And whatever she decides, that’s okay. So when she says, “No,” just say, “Okay.” And say it honestly. You truly have to be okay with whatever she decides.
If this is hard for you, take some time to talk to God about it. Explore your reaction, your emotions, and ask God to help you sort it all out and help you with it.
Honestly, this will probably be the hardest part. Take the time to work through it with God. Keep bringing your own hurts and concerns before Him in regard to your feelings when your friend won’t let you help.
Second, pray for her. Become her prayer warrior. Lift her up before God as much as He leads you to, and ask Him to bring healing and comfort to her during this time. If no words come to mind when praying for your friend, it’s okay. Just carry her to Him and lay her at His feet. I actually have a guided prayer from our first bonus episode in March about sitting with our friend in her pain, and I invite you to listen to that.
We all have our own rhythms of prayer, especially when it comes to praying for others. Maybe you keep a list in your Bible of those you are praying for. Maybe you keep a prayer journal. Maybe you write out your prayers, or you don’t have any written record whatsoever and just pray as your loved ones come to mind. Use whatever rhythm has become natural to you.
And if you haven’t settled into one yet, explore some different options. Stick an index card on your desk with those you are praying for. Right now, I have my regulars that I pray for, which I don’t really need a list for anymore, but I also write names down in my planner each week for special concerns and prayer requests—those who are having surgery or needing to make a tough decision or who just need to be covered in prayer for one reason or another.
Third, respect her space but stay in reach. Give her the space she needs to process what is going on, but don’t disappear entirely. Stay close enough that she can easily reach you if needed. Send her a text message or email every 2-3 days. Mail a card. Let her know that you are there when she is ready. You might even keep making different offers over a period of time to see if she needs help in some other way. “Can I watch your kids for an hour on Monday night?” or “Would you like me to pick up your groceries for you?” Don’t ask all the time, but don’t stop asking altogether. She might keep saying no, or she might be ready to start saying yes.
All in all, I invite you to keep a spirit of discernment. While I encourage you to respond in these three ways—to accept her answer, to pray for her, and to respect her space but stay in reach—I also know that every situation and every relationship is different. And I fully believe God will lead you in the way He wants you to respond.
So let’s take this through an example. Let’s say your friend Ruth is grieving the loss of her mom. Her dad has already passed and she is an only child and left with making the decisions regarding the funeral services, as well as the task of going through the house and all the stuff that comes when someone dies. Not only is she grieving, she is overwhelmed, all while trying to keep up at work and take care of her family.
You have talked with Ruth just a few short times since you’ve heard the news, but you want to be with her through this time. And so you ask, “Can I bring a couple of meals for your family this week so you don’t have to worry about cooking dinner?” And she said, “No, that’s okay.”
It’s easy to be confused or frustrated. After all, you love her and want to help. So how do you respond?
You can simply say, “Okay. If you change your mind, just let me know. I’m here for you.” And leave it at that. Give her some space, but keep checking in. As Karen Altizer suggested during my interview with her, communicate in a way that lets your friend know you care without feeling like she has to respond to you. A text message that says, “Thinking about you today,” or a card where you write out a prayer for her.
Maybe every week you make a different offer: Can I bring coffee over on Thursday? Do you want any help writing thank you notes? But you make each offer with an open hand, willing to accept whatever answer she gives.
Here’s the deal: she might never let you help throughout this season of hurt. And I know that’s hard, but that’s still her choice. Don’t take it personally. Keep holding her in prayer.
However, many times, our friends just need a bit of time before they are ready to accept our help. They’ve worked through some healing, or they’ve determined the best way they can use support, and there’s something specific we can do to care for them. And in this scenario, let’s say that Ruth needed three or four weeks to deal with all the funeral and house stuff, and after that is taken care of, she accepts your offer of a coffee date. She just needed some time. She needed to focus. She needed to grieve and pray through it.
I love how Paul puts it in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NIRV): “We are also asking you to encourage those who have lost hope. Help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.”
So what do you think? Do you think you’ll be able to accept your friend’s decision without taking it personally or growing frustrated? I know you care so much about your friend. I know it’s hard to sit back and watch her hurt. It breaks your heart. Just keep praying. In fact, let me pray for you now.
God, I thank you for these friends who are listening, and I know their hearts are heavy. They are concerned about friends of theirs who are hurting, who have lost hope, but who seem to be keeping others at arm’s length. God, would you show each one of these ladies how they can best support their friend during this season? Don’t let their hearts grow weary, but help them to be patient and steadfast as they care for their friend. In Jesus’ name, I pray, amen.
Friend, thank you so much for joining me today. Next week, I’m actually going to turn this around and do an episode on how to decline an offer of help gracefully, so be sure come back so you don’t miss that.
Until next time…
- “When you are sad, no one else feels the pain; and when you are happy, no one else can really feel the joy.” (Proverbs 14:10 ERV)
- “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 NLT)
- “We are also asking you to encourage those who have lost hope. Help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 NIRV)
- [Guided Prayer + Meditation] Sitting with Your Friend in Her Pain
- Episode 11: Asking For Help When You Need It