In case I left this out yesterday, my reading plan currently involves the book of Job in the Bible. It seems like every time I read this book, I learn something new about both what to do and what not to do in times of hardship. This includes my own hardships and that of my friends.
Over the past couple of days, a few things really stand out to me about how we as friends can help others through their grief.
1) Job’s infamous 3 friends get a really, really, REALLY bad rap, and for good reason. They get such a bad rap, though, that we miss out on learning something they underwent that we all should consider as friends. They sat in silence with the grieving, bleeding, oozing Job for not just a few minutes or a couple hours but SEVEN. WHOLE. DAYS. AND SEVEN. WHOLE. NIGHTS. Can you imagine? What would seven days and nights of silence look like? Could we do it? Any of us? I know that kind of time may not exist for most of us; we need to see to our jobs, families, and lives. Imagine, though, the kind of friend who would:
Set an appointment to go
Travel a great distance
Weep for the one we love even from far off, and
Sit in silence for an extended period of time just to show support.
When we express our support for our grieving friends, silence sends a much louder message than empty words. Often in our grief, we rarely know any words that come close to expressing our pain. In the face of a friend’s grief, we know even less what to say. Nothing fixes the pain, so learn to sit in silence and just spend time with the friend who grieves.
2) Job and his friends reference God repeatedly. Job clearly knows God better than his friends; though all of them grasp the reality of God’s sovereignty. They all show a lack of understanding that God later clears up in what I can only imagine was probably the single most overwhelming moment of their lives. Still, from their knowledge and the holes in their knowledge, I learn that how we understand God plays a significant role in how we comfort our grieving friends. We may find great comfort in the sovereignty of God or it might terrify us. The greater we understand God’s control, the greater rest and peace we find in it. The better able we are to point people to God in ways that truly meet their needs. We serve others best when we learn as much as possible in the quiet moments about God so that He is a ready answer in the deep water.
3) Don’t tell a grieving friend anything close to “you brought this on yourself.” Zophar, one of Job’s friends, tells him an equivalent statement. Even if we know the grief-riddled person screwed up big time, we bring their pain greater honor by the acknowledgement of the pain. They already know their own guilt; let them figure it out. And don’t assume that because they are going through a hard time means that they sinned. God Himself called Job an upright man and at the end of the book, God told Job that spoke rightly even though he cursed the day of his birth, even though he questioned God, even though he grieved very deeply. We should not question our friend’s standing with God. We don’t know, and we dishonor them by implying or even directly stating they brought this on themselves.
Grief is messy. Let it be messy.