Helping … or Meddling?


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, a lesson all parents need as our children grow.




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:


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?


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 help when 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 troublesome meddler on the same list as murder, thief, and evildoer. And Proverbs 20:3 (AKJV) associates meddling with 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?”


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.



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 You can also listen to their Grit ‘n’ Grace podcast at Get your copy here!

Which part of the helping vs. meddling column do you most identify with? I’ll go first in the comments below.




  1. Lynn Cowell says:

    For me, it is preventing necessary pain and disappointment. My mind says “If I can fix it, I should.” More than once, my “helping” has prevented a lesson that God was trying to teach someone for their health and well-being in the future. My getting involved simply prolonged that teaching process. I got in God’s way!

  2. Hi Lynn, thank you for revealing this important area for many women, especially me. Controlling behavior is one of the reasons why I believe I feel cronically overwhelmed. It is hard to watch people suffering and wanting to help them, and that you can turn into meddling or unwanted help quite easily! Our family is just about to branch into a new venture with an Airbnb space on our property. And I am going to need a lot of help from my family including allowing them to do things differently than I would! And I want to be a blessing and support to our guests as God directs (when warrented) but not when it is invasive or stressful. Good use of my time will be an even more critical commodity as we add this additional responsibility to our family workload. I am ordering my copy today!

    1. Lynn Cowell says:

      You are exactly right, Gail! Before I began to address this area of my life, I was so very often overwhelmed. I have begun looking at what it is I am overwhelmed by and more often than not … it is actually not my problem and sometimes any of my business!

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