Now when Job’s three friends–Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite–heard about all this adversity that had happened to him, each of them came from his home. They met together to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2:11)
Job’s friends did wrong no doubt. It was their words that got them in trouble as they repeatedly suggested that Job must have sinned. When great calamity falls on someone people want to believe that somehow they deserve what they got. This type of thinking is very old, from the oldest book in the bible. But enough about what they did wrong, I want to focus on what they did right.
First of all, when they heard what happened, they dropped everything and came. In 1996 my son Alexander died during the night. He was 12 weeks old. I was away on a business trip when I received a phone call from my dad early in the morning. I hopped on the next plane. By the time I got home a few hours later I was surprised to find some of the husbands and all of the wives of my small group there at the house on a Monday. As word spread throughout our church and community people came. Of course this was the kind of sudden shocking loss that moves you to action.
The loss of my health is a slow motion disaster. You can see it coming but it happens so slowly there doesn’t seem to be a single moment that prompts you to action. When the ambulance was called to take me to the hospital because I was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down… that would be a good time. My church sent our worship pastor to visit me then. On the third day in the hospital when the doctors could find nothing wrong and the psychiatrist was called my pastor saw me then. At that point everyone believed that I was mentally ill and nothing I said could convince them otherwise.
The first right thing to do is to come; just be there. In 1996 when our small group came, they looked around and saw laundry that needed to be done and they did it. They saw the phone ringing and we were in no shape to answer so they answered it for us. They saw a house full of people who needed to eat so they cooked. The support was terrific.
It’s easy to be a support when you know that it will be for a short time. They knew that this wasn’t going to last. We were healthy and life would go on. When you see someone who is suffering with a long term debilitating condition you worry about helping. Will they come to depend on you? Will you get so involved in this long term suffering that you cannot get yourself out? I know because when I was healthy I thought the same things. Compassion is risky business. Take a chance, I’m sure that whatever you do will be appreciated.
When they looked from a distance, they could barely recognize him. They wept aloud, and each man tore his robe and threw dust into the air and on his head. (Job 2:12)
The second right thing they did was to join in the grief. They cried, they tore their robes, they threw dust in the air… these were all expressions of grief. Sometimes we think that we must be strong for the one who is grieving. That we can’t cry in front of them even though scripture says to weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). When you come to the grieving, do whatever culturally appropriate things you need to do to join them in their grief.
Then they sat on the ground with him seven days and nights, but no one spoke a word to him because they saw that his suffering was very intense. (Job 2:13)
The third thing they did was to be silent for a very long time. In moments like these people think they need to say some brilliant words of comfort. While I appreciate the thought, the truth is that many of the things people said to me when my son died were just plain silly. It was not the words spoken that mattered. I don’t remember the things that people said that day. I do remember them being there, hugging us, doing laundry, answering the phone, making meals.
When you ask people why they don’t go, people reply “I don’t know what to say.” Here’s good news then, you don’t have to say anything. You just go, give them a hug, cry if you want to cry, tell them you are devastated for their loss. Look around and do what needs to be done.
People often tell me “If you need anything, just let me know.” When they say that I wonder if they really mean “anything.” Even so, I appreciate the thought, but I’ll probably never call them. It’s not that I don’t believe that they meant it… It’s just that I don’t want to be a burden to them. Yes, of course there are things that I need help with. Just come and take a look. Ask me if you can help take care of something for me… that is love in action.
Jobs friends did some things right.