Job’s friends have endured a lot of criticism through the centuries … and justifiably so.
I’m sure you recall that at the height of Job’s suffering they each, one by one, let loose a barrage of accusations about how Job’s pain and misfortune were all his fault.
Maybe they meant well. Maybe they thought they were offering Job solutions to the mysterious predicament overtaking him. “Who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:7-8).
It’s our tendency to try and fix things, isn’t it? A family member or a close friend endures some sort of intense suffering – a devastating illness, the death of a spouse, a parent, or a child. And us? We struggle to find the right words to bring comfort and healing.
To the sick, we might say, “Call me if you need anything,” or “Just trust the Lord.” When a loved one passes away, we’ll tell family and friends, “They’re in a better place,” or “At least they’re not suffering anymore.”
We mean well. In other words, I think we’ve all taken a stroll in Eliphaz’ sandals.
But well-intentioned words often fall short of offering any true comfort.
If we’ll flip back a few pages in the Bible from Eliphaz’ comments, we’ll see a part of the story that we easily overlook. Job’s friends actually started off on the right foot.
Job 2:12-13 tells us:
And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
Knowing how to come alongside a loved one in need can be a delicate process. Jill Lynn Buteyn knows all about the challenges – and the blessings – that come with being available to someone who’s enduring difficult trials. She was a close friend of the late Kara Tippetts, a young mom and pastor’s wife whose battle with cancer ended last year. You may remember Kara and her husband, Jason, from our program with them a couple of years ago. They joined us to talk about their journey through suffering with hope and confidence in the Lord.
Jill was with us in yesterday’s program, “Showing Up for a Friend in Need,” will be here to offer encouragement and helpful advice for those of us who have a friend in need, but who feel uncertain how to enter into their lives in a meaningful way.
The first hurdle is becoming comfortable with the messiness of life. More and more of us, it seems, are not genuinely connected with others in our everyday lives, and we especially don’t know how to connect with people through the depths of their suffering. So even when we struggle knowing what to say and do, the point is to have the courage to press forward anyway.
That leads to the second hurdle, which is our own sense of helplessness. We naturally want to help the people we care about feel better, but there really are no words that can ease someone’s heartache in the face of death or a terrible illness. And we have to learn how to be okay with that.
If there’s nothing we can say, then what are we supposed to do? This is a case where what we perceive as the problem may actually be the answer. What our grieving loved ones need in those difficult moments is not our words, but us, our presence, our willingness to sit with them in silence if necessary, to cry with them, or to listen to them as they share their grief.
Jill recalls a time when she stayed the night with Kara in the hospital, so Jason could take the kids home and get some rest. At one point in the night, Kara woke up and told Jill, “It gives me so much comfort to open my eyes and see you here.” Jill remembers thinking, “I’m not even doing anything. I’m just sitting here.” Being present won’t wipe away their sorrow, but it will allow them to draw upon our strength as they walk through their pain.
That’s not to say a struggling friend or family member doesn’t need practical support. They do. In those instances, don’t say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Again, that’s a well-meaning offer, but people rarely respond to those kinds of invitations. They may already feel like a burden to others, so they’re not likely to pick up the phone and say, “Would you come over and cook dinner?”
Instead, be specific with your offer. Try this: “Can I drive your kids home from school today?” Or “How about I bring over some dinner for your family tonight?” You could offer to do their laundry, go grocery shopping, walk their dog, or babysit their children. Whatever it is, being specific makes it much easier for them to accept your help.
I hope you’ll join us for our program (you can listen on your local radio station, online, or on our free, downloadable mobile phone app). Coming alongside someone who is suffering can be uncomfortable if you don’t know how to do so in a meaningful way. I think our conversation today will help you move forward into those situations in the name of Christ. Not only will you be a blessing to someone who may be desperately in need, but you’ll find yourself being blessed by the Lord as well.