I was stuck. Trapped. A marooned whale flat on my back.
"Bed rest," the doctor insisted.
All because my body had gone into pre-term labor trying to birth my son who swam in an amniotic pool three times the size of the ones most other mommies give their babies. I’d been diagnosed with polyhydramneous, a condition in which there’s way too much amniotic fluid and in my case it pushed me into labor fourteen weeks too soon.
Only the day before had my husband and then fourteen-month-old daughter moved to the efficiency apartment above my parent’s garage. It contained only our bed. And me on that bed. All day. Every day.
It was Katy who came to the rescue. God had sent me a hero.
Out of the blue she called me up and asked if she could come over to help. She asked if I needed anything from the store. Good start.
I told her I was trying to eat well and would love some fruit.
My hero didn’t just bring me a banana. She had a beautiful basket brimming with all different types of fruit, yogurt, granola bars, and other healthful snacks. She also brought dinner for my family. But food was just the beginning.
Katy helped me by unpacking my dishes, organizing my clothes, and rearranging my things. In spite of the naturally awkward situation — me on my back instead of doing the work I’d intended — Katy kept up a light-hearted and cheerful conversation, as if rounding up someone else’s dust bunnies was her favorite hobby.
She’d ask questions and draw me out which kept me relaxed and didn’t allow me to focus on my helpless state. She acted as if we were long time friends or sisters. But we weren’t. Katy didn’t know me very well. When she arrived at my apartment we were practically acquaintances, but that day she became my friend. She came and served me. I felt so loved.
That day’s visit was just the beginning. She continued to offer help and support. I could count on Katy. It may or may not have been how she wanted to help, but she served me in the ways I needed.
Let me explain.
I’m prone to quickly volunteer help when it fits my agenda and my schedule. I tend to serve others when it’s easy, when it’s convenient, when it "works" for me. I rarely step out of my comfort zone. It doesn’t take me long to think of ways that I feel uncomfortable serving.
For instance, talking to strangers is a fair few blocks from my comfort zone. Definitely not something I’m quick to volunteer to do. But the Lord has convicted me of needing to push out of myself and my natural inclinations and serve in ways that are uncomfortable. Recently, I had the opportunity to do just this.
When a friend of mine was hospitalized, I was able to serve her by talking to the nurses for her. She needed me to talk to strangers so that’s what I did, even though it was uncomfortable for me. The point is to serve the other person and not simply feel like I’m serving. It’s wonderful to serve people and do what you can to be helpful, but pursue their true needs.
Katy’s example didn’t simply teach me about stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to serving others. I also learned the importance of asking for help. Katy showed me that others are willing to meet my needs if I’m willing to tell them what my needs are.
As someone who’s personally walked through extreme needs including grief, crisis, illness, and difficulty, I know how difficult it is to ask for help. It’s hard to tell others because either I don’t know what I need or I feel uncomfortable asking because I don’t know how far they’re willing to go in order to help.
But it’s during these times we’re in a place where we need help more than ever. Through those times of walking through need, I’ve learned there are ways in which you can step out of your comfort zone to serve more effectively. Let me share a couple with you.
Keep the person and their situation in mind. You might begin by asking what their needs are or by offering to help in a specific way. If they’ve already received a dozen meals maybe another meal isn’t what they need. Be thoughtful. If a person just moved and you’re bringing them a meal, bring some plastic cutlery and use disposable dishware. The last thing they need when they unpack is to remember to get your 9X13 pan back to you. Don’t serve solely on your own terms. What good is it for you to offer a new mother a meal that she has to pick up on the way home from the hospital?
Don’t over commit. Tell them what you’re willing to do for them. You can offer to watch their kids, make them a meal, clean their home, or simply visit them if they’re lonely. Maybe it’s taking care of their lawn if they’re unable or helping with home maintenance. I always feel blessed when I know people are willing to do what’s needed, whether it’s laundry, dishes, or playing with my kids. It helps when people ask thoughtfully and honestly, offering to do all they can.
Be sure though that you’re not committing to do something you can’t follow through on. Be aware of your limits. For example, say that you’ll visit them once a week, not every day of the week. Or tell them you’d love to babysit their kids, but you’re only available during these specific times. It’s dreadful being offered help and then the person not following through on it.
Get creative. Money’s a wonderful gift and helpful in certain contexts, but there are other ways you can bless others. A creative way people have served us in the past is by getting us gift cards for groceries or gas. Others have helped us by paying hospital parking fees. During a stressful point in our marriage, one couple gave us a gift card to a fancy restaurant so that we could have a night on the town. For those who couldn’t cook us meals, they’d order take-out for us. One family, in addition to bringing us dinner, brought us some muffins to be used as breakfast for the next day. Find out if there are any allergies or food preferences if you’re bringing a meal. Maybe make their favorite dessert. If you don’t know the person very well you can find out from those who do know them what would be a blessing.
Don’t be offended if their answer is "No!" Be gently persistent about your support and commitment to them. Know that ultimately you can serve them by praying for them and that’s loving them. There are times when help can be overwhelming. Don’t store up bitterness or resentment if they refuse your offer. In the midst of crisis, I’ve felt confused and overwhelmed and uncertain of what would help. At times, I’ve just needed to be alone. By bombarding the person or refusing "no" for an answer, or even holding it against them later, you’re not blessing them or serving them. Be committed to putting them first by letting it go when you’re not the one to serve.
We need to reach out to real people who have real needs, whether the need is grand or seemingly insignificant and be willing to step out of our comfort zone to do so. In this we fulfill the law of love.
1 John 3:16 says, "By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." God didn’t just tell us what the word agape means, but showed us in Christ being crucified for our sins. God’s calling us to be like Christ, who became the Servant of all, and laid down His life for us. Therefore, we’re to lay down our lives for others even when it’s uncomfortable.
And who knows, in the process, we may just make a friend.