Have you ever been asked that question? Have you ever been the asker?
I know I have seen both ends of that question before, mostly during "surgery summers". Both positions are equally awkward.
The one being asked the question often has no clue as to how to answer. Do you say, "No, thanks" even though you're drowning in laundry and desperate for companionship? Do you agree to let them help, proceeding to hand over your to-do list that's a mile long?
The Asker, on the other hand, probably fumbled around and came up with this question in the midst of a "There's nothing I can do to make this better" moment. This question comes from a sincere heart--one that wants to help, but just isn't sure how.
So there you are, two friends trying to discern what the other wants to hear. Two friends and a very loud silence as you try to figure out what comes next.
I would like to pause this little scene and speak to both the asker and the one on the receiving end.
To the Asker, I would say this:
Throw that question away and forget it was ever part of your vocabulary. I'm entirely serious. I understand where you're coming from, I do. After all, you can't know whether your friend really wants you to come over when she doesn't feel well or has a sick child to care for. And if you have never experienced what your friend is going through, you really don't know what they need.
Despite your great intentions, this is not the question to use. If your friend has just had some major life deal, they are going to need something. Assuming your friend needs something is the first step.
Questions to use instead: "How can I help?"
"What can I do?"
Or, leaving less room for refusal: "I'm free tomorrow. Can I come over and bring lunch? Can I help with laundry? Can I do your dishes?" etc.,etc.,etc.
Isn't it easy to see how these questions are different? "Do you need anything?" is detached, a quick Facebook comment, nothing binding you to do anything--you leave it entirely in your friend's court. The words 'what' and 'how' seem to attach a commitment to the question. I like the last one best, because although surprise visits aren't a good idea in these situations, that has the same feel as a surprise visit--you made the decision to do it all on your own, your friend didn't have to ask you to do anything.
Next I would like to speak to the receiver of the question:
Although I hope your friend has already forgotten that question entirely, this is what I would like to tell you for facing that question again:
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Your friend did just offer their help, and no matter how the question was worded, I believe they are concerned for you. So let them help. Don't feel embarrassed to admit that you really just need a nap and would appreciate their coming over to watch the kids, or to say you would love some companionship but don't feel like talking.
Honestly, Readers, the most important thing I wish to impart to you here is not even about those questions. Really, it's about loving one another with a love that knows no limits. My Mom and I are reading Bob Goff's book Love Does. The book is comprised of story after story of big, wide open love. Love that thinks of the other person first--such as a newlywed leaving his new bride and home to help a lost teenager get back on track. (That has been my favorite story of the book so far :))
That story left me wondering whether I would do the same thing. It's so easy to instead give out the easy kind of love, the love that asks if you need anything instead of just doing. Let's transform our love into a kind of love that does. A kind of love that jumps in and gives everything away in an effort to love a little bit like the way God loves us.
How has someone loved you in a way that helped get you through a difficult time?