10 Practical Ways to Help a Friend in Need
Do you know someone who could use a little encouragement? Is someone you love going through a difficult time?
If you’d like to help a hurting friend but aren’t quite sure what to do, this list of suggestions should point you in the right direction.
10 Practical Ways to Help a Friend in Need is a sequel to this post: How to Encourage a Hurting Friend. The two posts were originally one, in a very long article written long ago when I had yet to understand that blog posts should be concise. I hope this new, edited version is helpful as you seek to encourage the hurting folks in your life.
DISCLAIMER: While I believe most of the suggestions below to be universally applicable, always use your own judgement! Be sure to take into account your friend’s personality, as well as any cultural differences or extenuating circumstances.
When in doubt, ask your friend’s spouse or someone who is close to that friend. Be frank and explain that you’d like to do something helpful or encouraging. Ask for suggestions or provide your own suggestions and ask for their feedback.
10 Practical ways to help a friend in need
1. Take a meal
Do not ask “Do you need any meals?” Instead, you might say “I’d like to bring you a meal. Which night would be best?”
Meals are almost always helpful, but many people are hesitant to respond with a “yes” to the first question. By rephrasing the question to communicate that you will bring a meal if they’ll pick a night, you release your friend from feeling like a burden.
We’ve also had friends and neighbors simply drop off meals without asking. What an encouragement!
The meal need not necessarily be homemade. One of the most thoughtful meals we received (from a friend who is not the home-cooked meal type) was a gourmet jar of soup from a favorite restaurant, with a bagged salad and artisan bread.
It was something we wouldn’t have bought for ourselves and it made us feel pampered.
If possible, try to deliver your meal in disposable containers so your friend won’t have to bother with returning anything to you.
2. Send a restaurant gift card
Sending a gift card is a thoughtful way to help a friend in need.
If you live far away or your schedule doesn’t allow you to take a meal, this is the next best thing. Several dear friends have done this for us in the past and it’s encouraged us every time.
3. Make a specific offer to help
Again, do not ask “Do you need help?” Rather, “I’d really like to help by __________. When can I do that? Or is there something else I could do that would be more helpful?”
- keep their children while they have an appointment or obligation
- stop by the grocery store to pick up a few items for them
- take or pick up their children for regularly scheduled events
- take a responsibility off their plate (especially for those who serve or minister together)
- have their children over for a playdate
4. Do something helpful without even asking
This one does require some discretion, especially if you’re not super-close to the friend in need. Any of the suggestions mentioned above would fit the bill, along with many other ways you might think of to address the needs of your particular friend.
When we lost my mother-in-law quite suddenly and tragically after a five-week battle with cancer, friends from her church were amazingly helpful. They showed up to mow the yard, without even knocking on the door. They simply went to the shed, removed the mower and started mowing.
They also provided the entire meal for a large group of people at my in-laws’ home after the funeral service. No one asked them to do this, nor did they make a specific offer. They just did it. What a blessing to us at such a difficult time!
My parents also are expert helpers. I can’t even begin to list all the ways they’ve helped us and others during hard times over the years. We’ve learned much about serving others just by watching them step in and start helping without being asked.
If we truly desire to help a friend in need, we will find a way to do so.
5. Speak sincere words of encouragement
Don’t feel like you need to make some great speech, filled with words of wisdom. In fact, that’s often the very opposite of what most people need at such a time.
A simple and sincere “I’m so sorry you’re going through this” is often enough. If specific Scripture comes to mind, by all means share it, but do be careful not to preach or trivialize their pain.
Another way to speak words of encouragement is to share with your friend how they’ve impacted or encouraged you. When others indicate that my response to a trial has encouraged them, it encourages me.
If my response to pain encourages someone else or brings glory to God in some small way, I feel like my pain has not been wasted.
Depending on how well you know that friend, you might even share something that’s borderline silly. In the midst of our most recent miscarriage, a dear friend shared that according to her husband, we “deserved 100 children.”
I’m not sure I actually deserve 100 children, nor do I have any idea how that would work or what I would do with them, but it made me laugh. It also felt like a compliment: it was his way of saying “I think you’re good parents and I wish it weren’t so hard for you to have more children.”
NOTE: When verbally encouraging a hurting friend, it’s always best to err on the side of fewer words. I asked my husband Greg and my mom to share ways they’ve been encouraged during hard times (and my mom has experienced more than her fair share of hard times). They both mentioned this concept.
My mom shared that some people don’t know what to say, so they wind up rambling on and on, or they say unhelpful things like “I know how you feel” when they really don’t.
My husband explained that he appreciates when friends acknowledge the pain or loss, but then give him some space and carry on as normal (rather than dwelling on the painful situation).
6. Send an encouraging message
I am a huge fan of “real mail.” Who doesn’t love receiving a card or note in the mail?
Many people claim they don’t have enough time to send mail, but I would argue that we all have the same amount of time, and we make time for that which we prioritize. (Did I mention this is a soap box topic for me?)
Keeping a stash of blank cards, as well as postage stamps, makes it easier to jot down a note and send it off to a friend. Even a simple “I’m thinking of you” or “I’m praying for you” can encourage a friend going through a rough time.
What a meaningful way to help a friend in need!
And of course, an electronic message is better than no message at all, but I encourage you to take it one step further and try sending a hand-written note.
7. Ask how they’re doing and then LISTEN
What a treasure to have friends or family members who have honed the skill of listening. Many of us are all too eager to share our own thoughts and feelings, as opposed to asking thoughtful questions and truly listening to those around us. I confess that I am often guilty of this, too.
I have two friends in particular who are excellent listeners. When I experienced a rough time that lasted for about a year following our big move, a long-time friend in another state spent a good deal of time just listening to me on the phone.
She asked probing questions and then let me respond, without judging me or trying to draw parallels to her own situations. She didn’t trivialize my experience or preach at me with many spiritual words. It truly was a dark time for me, but it would have been so much worse without her compassionate, listening ear.
8. Demonstrate support with your physical presence
- Stop by their house to say hello and check on them.
- Show up at the hospital and ask if there’s anything you can bring.
- Attend difficult events with them.
Again, I think of my mother-in-law’s funeral service. It was not local to us and we had not invited any friends. Nevertheless, about five of my husband’s closest friends made the drive of several hours, and simply showed up completely unannounced.
One friend even flew in from another state! We will never, ever forget their demonstration of support and true friendship to my husband at such a hard time.
I think also of that dark time of discouragement I experienced after our big move. That same out-of-state, good-listener friend made a trip to visit me for several days, just to be an encouragement.
It required a solo car trip of several hours with her one-year-old, as well as a solo flight home with him (her first time to fly alone with the baby). She and her husband also raise full-time support in order to minister in the inner city, which means they have to manage a tight budget. Her trip to see me was a labor of love that truly encouraged my heart.
One more example…Three weeks after the birth of my middle son, while we were still feeling isolated and uprooted after the big move, a dear friend (pictured above) came from Texas to serve us for one full week.
The trip had been planned for months and she followed through with it even after discovering her own pregnancy.
She farmed out her own two children and came to take care of us: cooking up a storm, entertaining my preschooler, running to the grocery store, loving on our new baby and more, all while pregnant herself.
What a gift of friendship to our family during a trying time! If you really want to help a friend in need, show up. Give the gift of your presence.
9. Give a thoughtful gift or send a “We Love You” care package
This could be anything from standard pampering gifts like chocolate, flowers, candles, essential oils or other items you know they’d enjoy, to special gifts that speak directly to their experience.
After our first, terrible miscarriage (Read more about that here), a sweet friend brought me a homemade CD mix of her favorite praise songs. To this day, it was one of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received.
To think that she would take the time to do that for me was such an encouragement, on top of the fact that listening to the words of those songs brought comfort and perspective to my soul and reminded me, over and over, of truth from God’s Word.
Modern technology provides an even easier alternative to the antiquated CD mix in the form of a curated playlist on Spotify or other music streaming platform.
After the loss of my mother-in-law, our class at church brought us a small houseplant in a beautiful pot. It was a blessing to have a living, growing reminder of the person we’d lost, as well as a reminder of a group of people who loved us.
And the pot itself was a perfect match for the decor of our home, which was no accident. It demonstrated such thoughtfulness.
My recent emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy happened to occur in the middle of the night before the very day of a ladies’ event I’d coordinated. We were to learn how to make T-shirt scarves (look them up on etsy–so fun!) and I was disappointed to miss it.
The other ladies made me a scarf and rosette and sent it home with my husband the following Sunday at church. I love the scarf, and every time I wear it I’ll remember their thoughtfulness.
10. Pray for and with them
One of the most powerful ways to encourage others is to pray Scripture for them.
Sometimes we don’t know how to pray for others; we feel unsure about what to say. You can never go wrong when you pray God’s Word back to Him!
See this list for some great passages to pray for a hurting friend (or for yourself when you face a trial): Fiery Trials–Help from the Scriptures when going through the fire.
If praying Scripture is new for you, or seems intimidating, you may appreciate these suggestions in Steve Hall’s article Helping Hurting Friends.
In summary, may each of us seek to encourage those who are hurting.
We may not be able to help in each of the ways mentioned above, but there is always something we can do. And remember: A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25, NIV)
A few more ideas for encouraging others: 19 Ways to Encourage Others (from powertochange.com)
How have others encouraged you during a difficult time?
Sign up NOW for my best tips delivered weekly to your inbox!
You’ll also get instant access to my library of free ebooks and resources.