But watching the house next door go up in flames with children trapped in bedrooms or realizing that the elderly widower at church has been left with no home because of financial abuse is NOT easier to watch if we had serious concerns and did nothing.
So go gently, but don't turn a blind eye. Be friendly. Look for ways to offer support for families experiencing times of extreme distress such as failing parents or seriously sick children or signs of financial distress. Be a part of the long tradition of casserole ministers who take a meal, or invite them to to share a meal with you. Offer to keep the kids a few hours so the parents can have some time together. Offer to stay for a couple of hours so a caregiver can have time for a walk in the park or an easier time grocery shopping. And if you are deeply concerned about the situation getting worse, call the Hot Line, anonymously if that seems best.
Some years ago I developed a first-name basis professional relationship with a social worker who showed up at my door at the request of an unhappy 2nd wife. It was embarrassing and I was very irritated, especially since our very busy household was rarely "Martha Stewart photo shoot ready." But I found I really like the young woman who was assigned us. And in the few weeks she visited I learned that she had no problem with a basket of laundry in the middle of being folded into stacks on the couch or a floor full of trucks and dolls, because most of her days were spent dealing with folks who struggled mightily to keep the clothes laundered or to provide toys and trucks. We were both kind of sad when the case was eventually marked "without merit" and our time of association ended.
Some months later when I experienced pretty strong proof of danger for some neighborhood children I was less nervous about calling to discuss the problem with a Hot Line staffer. I don't know how that story ended, but I knew I could not ask that child to endure without at least trying to get him and his brother (and his mother) some help.
So when you see something that concerns you, offering prayer is always a good idea, but unless it something far more serious than a difference of opinion on parenting styles, make a more positive contribution than lecturing a young mother in the grocery store check out line. I suggest you limit your help to engaging gently the parent by helping unload the cart or offering words of encouragement.
But when you see an immediately serious threat or a pattern that is deeply distressing, then use those praying muscles to ask God to make you wise and courageous. Sometimes just knowing that someone notices and tries to help can offer a lifeline if the help is offered humbly and kindly. As St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”