Getting back to “Is there anything I can do?” I want to ask a very challenging question. Well, what can you do? A grieving friend is not ready to give you a list of immediate needs. So, if you are going to ask, be prepared to offer. What can you do? How are you gifted?
John the Baptist was out in the wilderness preaching repentance. At the risk of being even more offensive, yes, we do need to repent, too. If we have asked this question without the first impulse toward answering it, we have failed to contribute to caring for someone else. We have only done our part to move a genuine offer of assistance toward a meaningless conversational sign-off. We have turned our “God be with you” into “goodbye”. We have taken our talents to bless others and buried them in the ground. We need to repent. We need to repent of participating in polite conversations that mean nothing. We need to repent of our giving up on simple things when life seems to get complicated. We need to repent of taking the easy way out with hurting people because it might force us to confront our own hurts.
We have a role to play in redeeming the feeble phrase “Is there anything I can do?” That redemption involves how we can act—the things we can do—as we care for someone else.
John preached repentance and a convicted crowd asked, “What can we do?” Take a look at
this gospel story in Luke 3.
John answered their questions, and he didn’t give them impossible tasks
to accomplish that would result in their absolution. Repentance took the form
of simple things that they really could do.
“If you have two coats share one with someone who doesn’t have a
coat. If any of you have food, share it
with people who don’t have any.”
And if you only have one coat...
there's still hope for you.
At the bare minimum there were plenty of folks hearing John preach who did have food to share. Let me offer a rather selfish opinion. As someone who has struggled and even suffered at times… pound cake helps!
I know some good cooks out there who, when they get word there’s been a death in the community, they get out the eggs and butter. Sharing food and providing meals might be one good way we can answer the “Is there anything I can do?” question before we even ask it. I have even seen Sunday School classes respond to their friends’ needs by organizing meals for them for a week or more.
Sometimes the act of caring with food can be even simpler. I called a friend while I was in the middle of a difficult time. His first response to me was, “Let’s go get some lunch.” Don’t sell yourself short. A lot of good ministry can happen in conversation aided by a sandwich, a salad or even a cup of coffee. Sometimes having a quiet meal with a friend and not having to say a whole lot is enough.
What can you do? How are you gifted? We are blessed to be a blessing.
I came home one rainy afternoon, and half of our maple treed had fallen down. A few feet of it stuck out in the road. My sons and I worked on that part of the tree with a hand saw and a small electric saw.
The following Saturday morning, I was “this close” to convincing my wife that I needed—NEEDED—a chainsaw. I was about to close the deal and head off to Home Depot when we were interrupted by the doorbell. Our neighbor’s young son was at the door, “Daddy wants to know if he can bring his chainsaw and help you cut up that tree that fell down.” Talk about mixed emotions! So my neighbor came over. He cut up the fallen part of the tree and cut down the remaining tree because it was eventually going to fall down, too. It was a simple, neighborly act. This is why you should buy a chainsaw in the first place!
Think about what you have to offer. You will be surprised at how you are already able to be helpful to a friend who is struggling or suffering. The tasks might seem obvious and ordinary, but someone going through a crisis might not have the time or energy to accomplish even some of the routine daily demands. Your ministry might be as simple as picking up someone’s child from school or taking some books back to the library. Think about some of your own routines that you might need some extra help with if you were also walking through a personal crisis.
What can you do? How are you gifted? If you have a gift—share it. If you have a skill—put it to work. If you have some connections—make some phone calls. There are many helpful things that you can do. There might also be just the occasion for you to do something that is completely sweet and kind—because that’s who you are.
Please also be careful in the process of caring. You don’t want to do something for someone that might result in extra work to be done by the person you’re caring for. Be thoughtful about even the good gifts you intend to share if they also come with some derivation of “some assembly required”. It might not be the right time to bring over that casserole that requires a few extra steps to complete (please also work through your thoughts and feelings about using a disposable pan or your own Pyrex dish).
There isn’t going to be one benevolent project that will alleviate suffering or the source of suffering. It might help treat a symptom, and that’s good, but it won’t cure the problem. You and I won’t be able to do everything. I hope that we will want to do something.
For each of us, it might be a good idea to make a couple of lists. We can’t prepare for every circumstance, but it is a good idea to be ready. There are practical ways we can respond to our friends in need. Our lists will vary depending on how we are each gifted, but think about what you are able to do. Here are a few ideas. They might prompt what you’ll add to your own lists.
· We have already mentioned food.
· Get together with a group and provide meals.
· Go to the grocery store for someone.
· Take in or pick up the dry cleaning.
· Pet sit.
· Babysit and pet sit (because you’re a saint).
· Mow somebody’s lawn or rake their leaves.
Regarding a list of practical suggestions, there can be a lot of simple things that fall by the wayside when someone is going through difficult times. One basic explanation is that you can spend so much energy dealing with difficulties, that you don’t have any energy left to go about a simple enough task like picking up milk and eggs. Maybe you can be that friend who shows up and helps with some of the essentials that easily get forgotten?