How to Be a Helper Not a Meddler

Are you ready to move from running-on-empty to spent-and-content, investing your life in soul-satisfying ways? My friends Amy Carroll and Cheri Gregory, co-authors of Exhale, gently walk us through a process of losing who we’re not and loving who we are so that we can live our one life well. Today, they help us avoid the exhaustion of trying to be “All Things to All People” by discerning the fine line between helping and meddling.

Daniel was in the midst of making blueberry pancakes when I decided to make an apple crisp.

I brought out the Granny Smith apples, my fancy peeler, a lemon, and the grater … all the while keeping one eye on what my husband was doing.

You know, in case he needed my help.

And boy, did he ever!

He’s adding Bisquick to blueberry muffin mix? You can’t do that!

He’s rinsing the blueberries with hot water? He’s going to ruin them!

He’s making the batter that thick? He’ll burn them for sure!

I sucked in my gut, clenched my teeth, and channeled all my willpower toward keeping my thoughts to myself.

Trying to look nonchalant, I sliced my apples, added lemon zest and juice, got a second bowl for the crumble topping, and measured out brown sugar and oats.

But when Daniel left the kitchen briefly, I could stand it no more.

I snuck over to his skillet, slipped a knife under one pancake, and lifted it up to check and gasped in dismay:

Black.

Just as I suspected!

When Daniel returned, I announced, “I knew I smelled something burning!”

Unfazed, Daniel rescued his cajun pancakes, turned down the heat, and poured a couple more on the griddle.

I returned to my apple crisp.

And immediately wondered, Why are there oats all over my apples?

Followed by, What’s all this brown sugar doing in with the apples?

Oops.

In my hypervigilance over Daniel’s baking, I’d lost focus on my own. Instead of measuring the oats and brown sugar into the second bowl, I’d dumped them in with the apples.

And started mixing.

So now my thin apple slices were stuccoed with gooey clumps of old fashioned oats and globs of brown sugar.

During the twenty minutes I lost trying to salvage my mess, I tried to find someone to be mad at other than myself.

  • All that wasted time!
  • All those wasted materials!
  • All that wasted energy!

All because I’d forgotten a vital truth:

Help is only received as helpwhen the other person actually wants it.

When I feel the urge to “help” rise up, but no one has actually said, “Hey, could you help me?” nine times out of ten it’s Meddlesome Me rearing her controlling head.

Helper or Meddler?

It’s so tempting for me to make light of my meddling—to think of it as a double scoop of help with an extra dollop of care.

But Scripture has strong words to say about meddlers, and they’re not pretty. 1 Peter 4:15 (NASB) includes troublesomemeddleron the same list as murder, thief, and evildoer. And Proverbs 20:3 (AKJV) associates meddlingwith fools. Clearly, meddling is no laughing matter.

One way I’m learning to prevent the burnout of being “All Things to All People” is to pray-cess the question, “Am I Helping? Or am I Meddling?”

One way I’m learning to prevent the burnout of being “All Things to All People” is to pray-cess the question, “Am I Helping? Or am I Meddling?” #GiveAway Share on X

Some situations fall squarely in the “helping” category, such as:

  • advocating for those who can not advocate for themselves
  • parenting children based on their maturity level
  • fulfilling pre-decided roles and division of labor

But in many areas of life, finding the line between helping and meddling is tricky business. I’ve spent much of my life swinging wildly between the two extremes, rushing in where I wasn’t needed or withdrawing so completely that I abandoned people who actually needed me.

Helping                                                          Meddling

by invitation                                                    by invasion

asks and respects                                            assumes and presumes

meets another’s needs                                     meets my needs (to control, feel important, etc.)

avoids needless, destructive                           prevents necessary pain and disappointment*.

pain and disappointment

moves people toward independence,             makes people dependent, stunted, and entitled.

growth, and maturity

When in doubt? OFFER to help. Let others know what you are willing and able to do. Then let them make the next move.

The next time Daniel made pancakes, I simply asked, “Would you like any help?”

Then I did what he asked me to—and no more.

Amy and Cheri want to celebrate the release of their new book Exhale with you! Please leave a comment to enter to win a free copy.

Bio: This post is adapted from Exhale: Lose Who You’re Not. Love Who You Are. Live Your One Life Well, a book for women suffocating under the pressure to be all things to all people. Co-authors Amy Carroll and Cheri Gregory are convinced that by investing our lives in soul-satisfying ways, we can move from running-on-empty to spent-and-content. For more information and free resources, visit exhalebook.com. You can also listen to their Grit ‘n’ Grace podcast at gritngracegirls.com.

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Ann Musico

    What a wonderful reminder! I am practicing this more and more as my adult children are now raising families – it’s tempting to give “help” but I’ve learned as the post says, if it is not asked for it will not be well received. It is the same with coaching clients. Unless someone asks me for help, or I see a dangerous situation, I keep my opinion and thoughts to myself. It always works out better that way.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, that really is a test of self-control! I am sure your children will rise up and call you blessed!

  2. Melissa Henderson

    Thank you for this excellent message. I am thinking about times when I have meddled instead of helped. 🙂

    • Debbie Wilson

      Me too, Melissa!

  3. Joanne Chambers

    Love the story, we all look for ways to help others, sometimes it is best to wait till asked.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Joanne, maybe sometimes it’s appropriate to ask if they’re good or want help when we feel anxious. 🙂 I appreciate her point of helping them have independence, not be dependent on us.

  4. Erin Lucki

    Wow! I guess I really needed to hear that! Ouch! Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for sharing your heart and what God has put on it. I can’t wait to read this book and so many more! God bless you! ❤️

    • Debbie Wilson

      Erin, I really enjoyed Exhale. Blesssings to you.

  5. Linda Stoll

    Oh this is good stuff! What a superb clarification!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Linda, a great tip for all of us!

  6. Joy

    Great article! Needed this today . Learning boundaries my self and this seems like it would be very beneficial.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Joy, it certainly fits in with good boundaries! Thanks.

  7. Barbara Harper

    Visiting from Linda’s link. Very good distinction – I especially like the side-by-side lists.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thanks for visiting, Barbara. Hope you’ll come back.

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