When Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, they sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. – Job 2:11,13
The standard advice in moments of crisis is: “Don’t just stand there, do something.”
If a building is on fire, maybe that’s good advice. But it’s lousy advice in a moment of grief and loss. In fact, to comfort a hurting friend, it actually works better to do the exact opposite: “Don’t do something, just stand there!”
Logic is of very little use in a moment when a friend is weeping in your arms. And a wise perspective only seems to help a little. Besides, you as a caregiver are probably just as much at a loss for words as your hurting friend. But don’t worry! You don’t have to come up with clever words or banal clichés (which often hurt as much as they help). No. All you have to do is stand there. It’s called the ministry of presence.
Job’s friends model this … at least in chapter 2. Job lost everything. What can you say? “You lost your possessions? Well, easy come, easy go.” “You built it before; you’ll build it again.” “Your children died? God must have needed a few more angels.” No! Don’t do something, just sit there. And in chapter 2, Job’s friends were brilliant. They didn’t know what to say. So “no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
But they were there! And for one chapter they were brilliant.
As a pastor, I try to be brilliant … and usually only marginally succeed. But experience has taught me to tell one truth: “I don’t know what to say … except I love you and God loves you and He’s grieving too.” And then I just stand there some more.
So … if Job ended with this passage in chapter 2, Job’s friends would be hailed as caregiving heroes. The problem is that for the next nearly 40 chapters, Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz kept opening their mouths. They absolutely couldn’t shut up! In fact, they mostly blamed Job for his own problems, saying essentially (and repeatedly), “You must have done something to deserve this.”
As a pastor, my role is often to give perspective. But, oh is it hard to sometimes calibrate precisely when. (Actually, do you know when the “perfect when” is? It’s before there’s a crisis. It’s being shaped by preaching and teaching that gradually cuts a deep canyon of faith, hope, and perspective before the inevitable crises in life occur. Sadly, however, fewer and fewer people in our culture avail themselves proactively to preaching and teaching. Even many Christians get too distracted by busyness and life to find themselves armed in advance with life-giving, hope-securing truths.)
Yes, it’s sometimes my pastoral role to give perspective. But you can relax. Giving perspective is not always your role – especially immediately. Don’t do something, just stand there. Hug. Listen. Love. Reflect God’s love. Resist the urge to say too much verbally. Let your simple presence instead speak volumes.
In Christ’s Love,
A guy who knows
that if you read these
or other devotions
you’re cutting a deeper
and deeper canyon
and are preparing
yourselves in advance
of life’s trials