Several chuckles arose in General Conference a few years ago when Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf was describing the enduring, constant love of God and said it isn’t “a ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do’ sort of love.”

We smiled because we recognize this worn phrase that virtually never results in service. We’ve heard it when we’ve been an ox in the mire and no one can think to pull us out. We’ve also uttered it ourselves, when we care about someone else’s hardship, but we haven’t put in the effort to find out what’s really needed. And do the suffering people call us? Nope. They don’t.

We all know that such a general offer (really, an assignment for the afflicted person to now think up a service project for us) is too awkward to cash in. Most people shy away from asking for help, and the best way to really comfort and support them is to say, “I’m picking Emma up from school all week—I’ll pick your kids up,  too.” Or “I’m making a double lasagna tonight—I’ll bring one by at 5:30.” Or “Let me pick up your groceries. I’m going there, anyway.” Or “Our family will shovel your snow all month. Just cross that off your list.”

Yep, Let me know if there’s anything I can do is basically useless. Or is it? I was thinking about this just before praying and realized there is one exception, one place, where it’s a great phrase to use. It’s when we are speaking to our Heavenly Father. Here is the one time when we might actually hear a response.

It’s probably better phrased as, “What lack I yet?” or “What am I doing wrong?”  Another way to put it is the way President Russell M. Nelson has when he told us to “Pray to know what to stop doing and what to start doing.” 

And, of course, we have to be ready and willing to accept correction from our loving Father in Heaven. Let’s face it; none of us are perfect. We all need improvement. But when we ask God, we will get a loving reply. And it will address an area where we truly need to work harder. But it will be do-able, or God wouldn’t ask it of us.

Now, granted, you can ask a spouse or a friend what you lack, but you might get a list!  So I don’t recommend that. Also, this person doesn’t know your heart as God does and may not receive inspiration in your behalf. The best support is the kind God offers.

God knows exactly what traits you need right now, to rescue you from the impending trials headed your way. He knows how sincerely you’ll work on it. He knows your capabilities. He knows exactly how much of a stretch and a challenge you can take on. And, best of all, He will tell you in a way that doesn’t make you feel rejected, but buoyed up and loved, even when His direction is difficult to accept.

We have faith in God, but have you ever stopped to realize He has faith in you? He knows you can grow and improve way beyond where you are today. He also knows how to take this slowly so you can succeed and not get discouraged.

He might just give you a one-word answer. When someone dear to me asked God this question, the answer was “Meekness.”  Ah, something we all need more of, right?

And when God tells us, we listen. We don’t argue back or get defensive, the way we might with a family member. Instead, we acknowledge that area of weakness and make a plan—with God’s help—to conquer it.

Sometimes we study things out in our minds and then present a plan to our Heavenly Father. This is what the Brother of Jared did in the Book of Mormon, and it’s been advised by our leaders again and again. But occasionally, despite our best efforts, sometimes we know we’ve left something out. Or we haven’t thought outside the box enough—is there another plan of action that would be even better than what we’ve imagined? Or, could it be our pride, our stubbornness, our inability to accept any outcome but our favorite, is keeping us from considering the one correct path?

This has happened to me more times than I can count. I have prayed all kinds of ideas to Heavenly Father, usually for my grown children. Help a family walk by, humming a Primary song. Help a great LDS girl fall out of the sky and land right by my son. Help something dramatic happen so my child will turn to thee.

Well, except for realizing one of my kids was in the hospital emergency room because of that last idea, God didn’t really act on my suggestions. And it hit me: Why are you giving ideas to God? Like He can’t come up with His own ideas? And even better ones?  Yes, we need to pray to Him with our righteous desires, but we don’t need to give Him a to-do list!

Sometimes our pile of panic grows so large that we sink into anxiety and despair. Those are the times when, if we ask the right question, we might hear what I heard one time: Have faith. And on another occasion when my impatient nature surfaced I heard, One step at a time. In both instances I felt in my heart that I was hearing bold truth, wrapped in love and in a belief that I could manage this. It restored calm and peace to my soul, filling me with hope and optimism.

We don’t always hear words; sometimes it’s a thought or an impression that comes. But everyone can receive answers.

Sometimes, rather than praying for the trial to disappear, God wants us to pray for his help to get through the difficulty. This could involve developing more Christlike attributes, trusting in God’s help, and thinking of others before ourselves.

One thing is certain. If we ask God to let us know if there’s anything we can do, there will always be an answer. All of us are works in progress. Aren’t you curious what He’ll tell you? And whatever it is, He’ll be right beside you as you act upon His absolutely perfect advice.

Hilton’s book, A Little Christmas Prayer, is so timely—it’s all about gratitude. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Church Communications.