Helping Others in Crisis Mode

"Crisis Mode"....you know what I'm talking about.  

-The family in your church just had to call in hospice for their elderly parent.
-Your mom friend was just put on bed rest.  
-The couple who just had a baby isn't at home enjoying those first days of newborn bliss.  Instead, they're staring into an isolette for hours at a time, wondering if today their baby can even tolerate being touched.  

As a pastor's wife and a woman who has experienced "crisis mode" many times during the years, I just want to share my heart on this matter.  And through my experiences, as well as what I've experienced in trying to best help others, I believe it's something that we all could stand to be challenged with.

You see, I have been that mom on bed rest.  Three times actually.  I've been that mom with a child in the NICU...twice.  Our oldest daughter has had three open heart surgeries along with three other catheterization procedures. I've learned a lot during those times of crisis.

The Bible commands us to "love one another" and  "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."  Helping each other anytime we can, but especially during difficult times is one of the biggest ways we live the Gospel and show the love of Christ.  

But can I share with you what I have heard way too often that makes me cringe?  And I've even been guilty of saying it myself. 

It's this phrase: "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."

It sounds good.  Right?  I mean, you are giving them the freedom to call on you when they need something....anything! 

But I'm going to share with you a little secret that I think most people don't understand.

When in "Crisis Mode", people are overwhelmed.   Calling someone with a plea for help just gives them one more thing to do in the midst of an overwhelming situation.  People often feel extremely vulnerable during these times and this just heightens that sense.  Also, many people are quite independent, and having to ask for outside help feels like "mooching."  It's embarrassing, so they just don't.

Having to call and ask you for help does not help them.  As well meaning as you are trying to be, it just. doesn't. help.

Also, when people are in crisis mode, many times they just cannot even identify their needs.  Their focus is solely on the situation (i.e. child in the hospital, family member about to pass away, moving, etc.) and their basic needs and those of their home are swept to the side.  They are having enough trouble processing what is going on and just can't think about all of those other minor details.

So when you give them the "Call me if you need anything" line and they give you a blank stare, please understand it's because they just can't express their needs to you.  

I think sometimes we are guilty of giving our little "feel good line" because it makes US feel better.  We've offered our help and done our little Christian duty, when in fact we are secretly hoping they don't call us.

But perhaps you do genuinely offer your help and sincerely hope you can be of any kind of assistance.  Then let me try to help you.

Don't tell them to "Let you know if they need anything."

Because with a little thought and creativity, you could probably sit down and write a list of at least 5 different ways you could offer your help.

It goes something like this...say you have a friend who is moving this week.  Maybe you have a bunch of little kids like me and you realize going over to help with packing really wouldn't be very practical.  

So what can you do?  What about a meal?  I can tell you from experience that trying to keep up with feeding everyone can be one of the hardest things about moving! I mean, here you are trying to pack, but you still have to cook, so how in the world are you going to do that with your pots and pans still in use?

This is when you say, "Hey, can I bring you supper/lunch on ____________?  I know you're busy packing and I didn't want you to have to worry about cooking too.  What would be a good time for me to bring it over?"

And you know what?  They'll look at you and smile and say, "Wow, thanks, that would be great!"

But I can almost guarantee that if you were a  mom with a bunch of kids giving an offer of "Call me if you need anything" they would most likely say, "Oh, it's okay, I know you're busy.  I think we can take care of it."

The book of James commands us to be believers that are "doers of the Word."  We are to be men and women of action.

We need to find ways to help people, not just offer generic help "if they need anything." I realize that offering a "Call me if you need anything" would be appropriate in some situations or with very close friends who would really let you know, but that is not the norm.

People going through a rough time will almost always need assistance.  Will they always accept?  No.  But when specific help is offered, rarely is it turned down.

Perhaps you could offer to mow a friend's grass who is spending all their time at the hospital with a loved one.  Or maybe you could pay for your bedrest-ridden friend to have her home cleaned by a reputable cleaning company. 

And honestly, I have found that one of the best ways you love people in "crisis mode" is with food.  Seriously.  

Whether it's bringing them a meal, or giving them gift cards to a restaurant, etc...providing food relieves the burden of worrying over a basic need and allows them to focus their attention on the current problem.  People need to eat so the offer is almost always readily accepted. We often bring a basket of snacks to the hospital when we go visit people. (Hospital food is expensive and because of that, many family members don't eat enough or nourishing food.)  So if you've racked your brain and can't think of anything else to do for someone, offer food.  =)

Please know this isn't a rant of some kind, it's just simply been on my mind a lot since there are several people in our church that have been in "crisis mode" recently.  

Look around you.  Who do you know that's currently going through a rough time?  Think about how you can help.  Take the initiative and offer specific help, not just an open ended gesture that leaves the ball in their court.  Be a doer of the Word and show the love of Christ by helping!   

Have you been on the recipient end of some great help when you were going through a crisis?  What was the best thing that was done, or could have been done for you?  Any thoughts on all of this?  I'd love to hear.

Linking up to Imparting Grace


  1. Great advice. I have a friend going through cancer treatment. She recently signed up on the Lots of Helping Hands website. It listed things she and her family could use help with...grocery shopping, childcare, meals, etc. It makes it easy for everyone and you can choose what is the best way for you to help out the one in need. It is HARD to ask for help, so your advice is spot on.

  2. This is good advice. I've often thought about exactly what you are saying even as those words have come out of my mouth. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. When I was on bed rest for the beginning of this pregnancy, I had a lady in my church pay for a cleaning service to come and clean. Since I couldn't do anything but "rest" my house was mess! It weighed on my mind. It was so nice to have an "outsider" come clean my house so that I wasn't embarrassed by someone I knew seeing my messy house.
    I have used the "let me know if you need anything" line many times. Thanks for your words of encouragement!

  4. A wise pastor's wife told me years ago "Don't offer help; just do it." It has been one of the best things I've ever learned. I usually say something like "What day would be better for me to bring a meal?" or "Can I watch the kids for you while you go to that appointment?" Being in Canada, our culture is very different, so even with this type of offer they don't always accept. (And if I just showed up they would be offended- been there, done that) But at least it makes it easier for them to accept.
    Also, spending many, many weeks in hospitals during my pregnancies showed me what the true needs are during crisis. We were on the receiving end and we felt very alone since no one ever offered anything or came or called. It was a hard time in our lives, but we learned some valuable ministry lessons about people's needs.

  5. "I think sometimes we are guilty of giving our little "feel good line" because it makes US feel better. We've offered our help and done our little Christian duty, when in fact we are secretly hoping they don't call us."

    Thanks for bringin' the conviction this morning. And it's not even a Sunday. ;)
    No really - awesome, practical suggestions from someone who has been in a crisis situation many times. Thanks for the reminder that love is an action word!!!

  6. I just recently found out about a website that helps to coordinate meals- www.takethemameal.com. We were able to use it to provide dinners for our friend at church who is recovering from surgery. It is such a great tool.

  7. Very good post! Being a missionary wife I too have seen people going through Crises and it has taught me to say and do more than "Call me if you need me." We realize here in Russia that they have no idea of what a PASTOR does and that we want to be a part of their lives not just shake their hands on Sunday mornings! So, being a bit forward if you will in our helping them out specifically has truly opened their eyes to see that we are sincerely here to help them through crisis times. It has been a blessing to watch our people grow to this point AND to hear that they are either sharing with others that we are a blessing to them or unsaved people themselves understanding that we are serving the Lord by serving them. God bless! I am glad to hear of you as a pastor's wife being sensitive to helping those in crisis too! It helps when you have been on the receiving end! :)

  8. What an excellent post! I'm so guilty of offering non-specific help. I was actually just thinking last night I should jot down somewhere creative ideas of how other people have helped us. We are away right now for my grandma's funeral, and last night after visitation we went to my aunt's house where a home cooked meal from one of her neighbors was waiting for us. Another group had sent an edible bouquet to the funeral home -- at first we were a little confused, but it was perfect to munch on the fruit after hours of sitting in the funeral home.

    Another thing I learned awhile ago is that even when the crisis looks like it's over to the outsider, the family can still be experiencing stress and might really appreciate some help. Sometimes it's nice to bring a meal or do something else weeks or months later.

  9. I don't have a blog but founds yours sometime ago through another blog. I enjoy reading it because I, too am a Christian. My daughters are in their 20's so I'm obviously another generation. Sorry to ramble, but my point is that this blog post is where my family is at this very moment-in CRISIS mode. We have a wonderful close group of Christian friends that are there for us for prayer and to listen to us and support us, but I really wish someone would do as you suggested. It is impossible when you are in that mode to ask for help as you have stated. Many nights we are so overwhelmed with our situation, all we do is eat snacks or frozen meals. Not the best nutrition wise, but it's all we can muster up. I think I might send our pastor your suggestion, it's something I never would have thought of before being in crisis mode ourselves. God Bless you and your family. Lori in California

  10. Thanks, Laine, that was just what I needed! This evening my pastor hubby went to a church member's house to pray over their infant son who has a severe skin condition. I had already used the "let me know if there's anything I can do" line :/, but hadn't really considered sending food. We do make it a point to send meals to those who have had babies or are in the hospital, but your wise post helped me realize that, for them, this is just as much of a "crisis situation" as the other (especially since the mother has gotten very little sleep due to the baby's condition). So thanks to your advice, I whipped up a casserole and sent it with my husband tonight! I know how nice it has been when folks have sent us meals, even for no reason, so I hope that it encourages them just as much as I have been. Thanks again for the gentle reminder to give specific help, even in cases when we might not consider it a "major crisis!"

  11. I needed this! I just recently became our church secretary and am still learning the in's and out's of the ministry. Great advice! Thanks, Laine!

  12. I saw your blog post earlier and didn't read it, because I didn't have any friends in crisis mode at the time. Then a few hours later I learned that my friend's grandma died this week and the funeral is Saturday. I hurried over to read your suggestions--all I'd heard before, but all I needed reminded of!

  13. Thanks, Friend, for sharing your heart! I think this attitude makes all of the difference in ministry. It makes me think of the adage "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." I think we turn people off when we offer our 'Christian' platitudes without ever acting on them. There are too many people who claim to be Christians that never show Christ's love. People are starving for real love - love that acts. Thanks for some practical advice on how to do that! Thanks for being real! Love you!

  14. Being on the receiving end helps us learn so much, doesn't it?

    I too was on bedrest three times, and my two oldest were in NICU (though Lucas was for only a week) and to this day I remain grateful for every kind act someone not only offered but actually did for me! I remember specifically that two ladies came regulary to clean my house when I was on bedrest with Lucas... and had they not stated that they were coming and wanted to know what time worked best for me, I might not have ever called them to ask if they'd simply said "let us know IF you need anything".

    I also think this could apply to helping out a family raising a child with special needs b/c I know personally it's hard to ask for help but that doesn't mean you don't need it. Thankful for the gracious people the Lord has placed along our path who have kindly acted on their offers from childcare to meals.

    Right now I'm thankful for the opportunity to put into practice of ways to help friends in crisis mode as one of my very dear friends daughter is fighting for her life in the NICU and I pray by God's grace He uses me to be a blessing to her as so many were to me in my time(s) of need.

    Sorry, I got a little long-winded...as you can tell I appreciated your thoughts on this matter! =) Thanks for sharing your heart and allowing the Lord to used what you've gone through to minister to others.

    My favorite verses: 2 Cor. 2:3,4 "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. "

  15. Wonderful post, Laine! I need to be reminded of this in reaching out to others too.

    And yes, I totally agree. In the last few months as we have been going through a deep valley in life it has been the people that have not just said, "let me know what I can do" that have been a help. Because I knew their lives were busy and I didn't want to add anything to their life so I never asked for their help. :( But those that said, "Can I help babysit tomorrow from x to x time?" or "What day would be good for me to help your family with a meal this week?" Or in just anonymous meal/grocery gift cards that we got. Those were HUGE blessings and HUGE encouragements to us. And the people that told me that they would pray and I KNOW they are and they keep telling me they prayed specifically for the situation that morning, etc.

  16. Wonderful post! I have been on the receiving end and the giving end of 'crisis mode'. I can tell you that it in the midst of a crisis, the generous and caring nature of others is needed and much appreciated and helps to ease the pain of the moment.
    Thanks for the inspiration,
    Pieced Pastimes

  17. Hello! I have been reading your blog for a while and have, so often, been blessed. Great job! This post hits home and i have several thoughts. In October of 2012, my sister very suddenly died and then, six weeks later I had our fifth baby. Several things that the body of Christ did that were such a blessing during that time were: people brought food while we planned a funeral and also right after it was over, a kind friend also paid for my house to get cleaned for several weeks, someone gave a massage gift certificate, meals were brought to each of us as siblings for a bit (varied amounts of time), one sister had a friend who mowed her lawn and clean her house, and I had several offers of people wanting to watch my kids for an afternoon. These specific things were such a blessing and were done without us having to say anything. I know now how helpful it is to offer specific things rather than waiting on someone who is going through a crisis to let me know how I can help. Thanks and God bless you and your family!

    Mary Landis

  18. Oops! Here is my (mary landis) email address: eatmoreeggs75@frontier.com

  19. I have been on the receiving end of showers of blessings during this most recent crisis time. On Jan 31st I fell and suffered a fractured pelvis. That's something for which where is no surgery or quicky cure, just rest & pain meds. Friends came with food, did grocery shopping, cleaned, visited, called, sent card & prayed. One couple brought us a full meal 4 weeks after the fall; it, too was so apprecited & a fairly new friend called again last night (8 weeks after the fall) to check to see how I am doing. No one person did everything but, combined, our needs were met and our hearts were blessed. Thanks for your comments, Laine; & thanks to all who left comments. Not being one to 'sees' needs as readily as some, the suggestions are a big help.


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