Do you find yourself at a loss for words when trouble makes its way into the lives of your friends? Do you sometimes turn away because the pain is just too intense and you just don’t know what to do?
Perhaps we can take a cue from the story of Job – the most famous story of suffering in the Bible, the blueprint for our response to suffering as well. After Job had lost all of his possessions and all of his family in the greatest test of faith as the result of Satan’s challenge to God, he was surely beyond inconsolable. He needed encouragement, healing, and strength from somewhere, and often, God will use the people He has placed in our life as instruments to provide such needs.
Did Job’s friends dodge his phone calls because they did not know what to say and send a sweet little card with some flowers? No. Rather, they jumped head first into the situation – becoming a source of healing for Job in the process.
“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:11-13).
1 – Go to them. Gas money, plane fare, or a bus ticket do not measure up to the value of just being with someone who you love and is hurting.
2 – Cry with them. Such an emotional response is the epitome of empathy. It does not display weakness and it will not make them sadder than they already are; rather, it might let them know that they are truly not alone in this.
3 – Support them. Just as Job’s friends tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads to demonstrate their sorrow and support, we can find ways to show our support as well. There is no room for judgment in the sorrow. There is no benefit in the “maybe, if you would have had more faith…”; “maybe, you should have done this…”; or “maybe, God is trying to teach you something”. If you love them, then support them, no matter what.
4 – Stay with them. Sure, maybe seven days and seven nights might be too long for you, but it is important to make sure you stay available throughout the term of their sorrow. A one-time prayer, a hit and run type “sympathy drop-off”, or the initial phone call all fade after time. It takes time for grief to soak in and sometimes it gets worse rather than better. Stay available for the duration – and going back to #1, make sure you go to them and continue to check in.
5 – Remain silent – listen when and if they speak. We need to keep our opinions, suggestions, and comments to ourselves. Sometimes, our helpful advice or reasoning can do more harm than good.
6 – Nourish them. Coffee, casserole, and cake have a way of tangibly offering something nourishing to their bodies while also offering a hint of nourishment to one’s soul. Shared with friends, they can be the bridge that can start to bring life back to your friend’s heart.