Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another. Today, we are going to talk about a problem that so many of us struggle with—and it’s actually a two-fold problem: saying no to someone’s invitation to help and then also accepting no as an answer to your offer of help.
My name is Kari Bartkus and I serve as a spiritual director to women who are going through difficult seasons like grief, anxiety, fear, and caregiving, and it is also my desire to equip you to care for your loved ones when they are hurting. But I know that we all go through seasons where we need the care and support of others, and so sometimes, we are the one going through the hard time and we need encouragement from others.
That’s why the podcast is called Let’s Encourage One Another. I want to encourage you in your hard seasons, but I also need you to encourage me in mine. It’s a mutual ministry of encouragement. As Paul writes in Romans 1:12 (NLT), “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.”
So when we talk about today’s topic, both saying no to others and then accepting no as an answer, we are going to talk about it from both angles. Okay?
But why are we talking about this in the first place? I mean, do we really have a hard time saying no to others when we need to? When they offer something we don’t really need? Are we really okay when we offer help to someone else and they decline?
Here’s why I bring this up: when I go to upload my podcast episode for you to listen to, I can see the top downloaded episodes over the past month or year or even since I started the podcast. And recently, when I went to do this, I saw that the top episode had shifted.
What now takes the top place is episode 15, How to Decline Someone’s Offer of Help Gracefully. I thought that was interesting and mentioned it to my husband.
But then upon further review, I saw that the third most downloaded episode is the one right before it, episode 14, How to Respond When a Friend Won’t Let You Help.
And it was then I realized that we struggle with this on both sides: we have a hard time saying no to someone and we also have a hard time hearing no from someone else.
Why is that? Let’s start with the side of saying no to someone’s offer to help.
Why We Struggle to Say No to an Offer of Help
Why do we struggle to say “no thanks” when we are going through a hard season and someone extends some sort of invitation to us—whether that’s to bring over some food or to watch our kids or to run our errands for us or whatever it is?
And as I’ve thought about it, there are several reasons that come to mind.
Maybe we doubt ourselves, that we don’t really know what’s best for us, and so we let others start to take control of our lives and make decisions on our behalf.
Maybe we don’t want to hurt their feelings by saying no, so even though we don’t need what they are offering, we say yes anyway.
Maybe we know that this person is hurting too, and they need to feel useful to us as a way to work out their own grief and loss, and so we say yes more to help them than to help ourselves, or even when it hurts us more than helps.
Maybe we are afraid to say no. Maybe this is a person who is in our family or church and they are just someone who tends to get their way. Or they are in some sort of authority over you as a parent or church leader. And you’re fearful of declining their offer of help because you don’t know how they would respond.
Do you resonate with any of those? Just take note of that, because that is something that you can talk to the Lord about. Okay?
Why We Struggle to Accept No to Our Offer of Help
So what about the other side? Why might we struggle with accepting no as an answer to our invitation to help someone who is hurting?
Maybe we think they are just saying no because they don’t want to be a bother to us, but they really mean yes, and so we ignore their answer and do it anyway.
Maybe we feel the need to physically do something to help, and so we are going to do it, whether it’s truly helpful to them or not. It unintentionally becomes more about us than about them.
Maybe we take it personally when they decline our offer. To us, it communicates they don’t value our friendship, or they don’t really like us like we thought they did, or that we aren’t really as close as we thought we were.
Sometimes, dare I say, I think we actually believe we know better than the hurting person about what would be helpful to them, and so we give advice or make a plan on their behalf to help them feel better or get through this hard season.
Again, if any of those resonated with you, take note of it and bring it to the Lord in prayer. He can help you sort it all out.
The Common Denominator: You Care Deeply
But I just want to point out something here, both in our struggle to say no and in our struggle to accept no as an answer. Because I found a common denominator, as it were, between the two.
And that is this: you all are a bunch of caring people. You really are. You care so much about others and you can’t stand the thought of not being there for someone, or of hurting their feelings, or letting them think that you don’t appreciate them.
And so when we honestly think that someone said no because they don’t want to be a pest to us, we want to show them that we care, and we do the thing anyway.
Or when we hear about someone who is struggling with something we’ve been through, we’re quick to share what worked for us so they can get through it, too—not realizing that what worked for us may not work for them.
Or when we are hurting, we still care deeply about our family and friends, and it’s so incredibly difficult for us to see them struggle. So when they offer to help us, we say yes, even though it’s going to make us miserable in the process.
You are a people who care deeply. And that is something to thank God for.
Learning to Be Open and Honest with One Another
But my friends, I think one of the things we can do to help each other out is to learn how to be as open and honest as we can in our conversations with one another.
If someone offers to help you and it actually won’t be helpful, be brave enough, be loving enough to say so. Maybe share with them how you are doing and name one or two things that would be helpful to you right now.
If someone declines your offer to help, be willing to accept it, to take them at their word. It doesn’t mean you’re not friends. It doesn’t mean you can’t offer help in some other way. It just means that at this moment, that is not something they need.
Let Your Care Turn You to Prayer
Something else I want to mention is that if you are more introverted like I am, then we can often care so much that it overwhelms us. Holley Gerth shares about that in her book The Powerful Purpose of Introverts.
You care so much about others that it often overwhelms you. You imagine the pain they are going through, the doubts they might have, the struggles they face. And you are just compelled to do something for them.
But my friend, let your care first turn you to prayer. In other words, let it drive you to your knees. Pray for your friend. Fight on their behalf.
This not only is the most important thing you can do for your friend, but it also helps you remember who is in charge of it all: God. And you can entrust your friend to Him. You can share your own worries and cares with Him.
One of my favorite people in the Bible is a man named Epaphras. We read about him in just a couple of verses in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, but this is what Paul writes in Colossians 4:12 (NIV): “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”
Did you catch that? He is wrestling in prayer. The word for that is literally to struggle, to contend, to strive for, to labor fervently. It is hard work. But it is a holy work. And it is a caring work. A true labor of love.
Three Invitations from God
And so my friends, this is an invitation for us to seek to build open and honest relationships with one another, that we might be able to yes when we need to and no when we need to without any fear of hurt feelings or of potential consequences of saying yes or no.
It is an invitation for us to truly seek the best for someone else, to let go of our own expectations of what that looks like and trust the Lord to lead us in caring for someone who is hurting.
And it’s an invitation to join in someone’s struggle by praying for them, as Paul encourages us to do in Romans 15:30 (NLT): “I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.”
A Prayer for the Friend of One Who Grieves
I’d like to offer part of a prayer from Douglas McKelvey, written for those who have a friend who is grieving, but I believe, is helpful to all of us who want to come alongside someone who is hurting:
O Christ, I am at such a loss. I want to help,
but I don’t know what to do, or what to say.
I don’t know how to act in light of
everything that’s changed.
But I know this: I love my friend….
Let me learn to remain present in
their life, not forcing them to speak of loss, but
being ever ready to listen, to share their tears, to
steward their story—however much they choose
to entrust to me—and so let me serve my dear
friend well by a close and constant willingness
to bear some small part of their long burden.
Thank you for being here with me, my friends. I would encourage you, if you haven’t listened to those two episodes yet, episodes 14 and 15, to go ahead and do so, because I go more in-depth on both of these issues, how to decline help gracefully as well as how to respond when a friend doesn’t let you help. I really do think we have a lot to learn and consider when it comes to these two things.
Okay, that’s all for today. Until next time… let’s encourage one another.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES + BIBLE VERSES:
- Episode 14: How to Respond When a Friend Won’t Let You Help
- Episode 15: How to Decline Someone’s Offer of Help Gracefully
- Romans 1:12 (NLT): “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.”
- Colossians 4:12 (NIV): “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”
- Romans 15:30 (NLT): “I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.”
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