2021 seems to be a great year to study the book of Job. It’s a story of a guy (named Job) who suffers a great deal.
When you get to chapter 2 in the story of Job, you meet three of Job’s friends. You really think you’re about to enter into this sweet encounter where you’ll read about how they all got together and decided to visit poor Job. At this point (spoiler alert), Job has lost his children, has these awful sores all over his whole body, and his wife has said to him (no lie or exaggeration): Curse God and die.
So the three friends show Job comfort and sympathy while he’s at rock-bottom. They do a few things right: they show up for Job during his suffering. They mourn and sit with him. They’re present and this matters and it can’t be discounted.
However, it isn’t long before each of Job’s friends begin laying into him about what he has likely done wrong and what he needs to do in order to relieve the suffering he’s experiencing. They come at him like self-help gurus, as if they know his trials better than he does.
This is a blaring warning sign for all of us: we cannot play God or assume we have all the answers for someone in the time of suffering. That’s not our job. That’s not our role.
It’s incredibly hard to sit with someone in the waiting. It’s hard to sit with someone when things don’t make sense or when the darkness seem endless. And I’m sure I’ve done it all wrong at certain points in my life. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve tried to talk away the darkness with my own stories. But if anything the last few years has taught me, it is that human words fail all the time; and though we get to be so many beautiful things in this lifetime – we were never designed to be lifeboats.
But, there are things you can do to stand beside someone in the dark:
That’s it. Just show up. Listen when they feel like talking. Nod your head and be present. There are so many terrible things happening right now that no amount of words or advice will ever fix it. In the midst of deep pain & loss, we don’t always need our friends to become doctors. We simply need people who will sit in the questions with us and wait on God.
Go on your knees
I think sometimes prayer can be the most underrated tool when someone we love begins to suffer. You can go to your knees for someone. You can petition for them. You can get alone with God and go to battle. Check out Matthew 6 if you ever want more instruction on prayer. God makes it all sorts of clear: you don’t need to pray the loudest prayers in the room. You don’t need to make a big statement. Our quietest actions can reap the loudest results. Just be a person dedicated to prayer in secret. You don’t even have to say to the person, “I am continually praying for you.” Better yet, don’t say you’re praying at all if you never stop to utter that person’s name up to God. Prayer is powerful but prayer is more than the sentiment, “I’m praying for you.” It’s knees sunk deep in the ground and ugly sobs. It’s going to battle in the spirit world when reality doesn’t make much sense.
Avoid giving advice
Unless your advice is full of encouragement, steer clear of trying to tell someone why the suffering is happening. Sometimes it is even damaging to say to a person, “God has a purpose for this.” Undoubtedly, He does, but we may never see it in this lifetime. It’s okay to say to someone, “I don’t know why this happened. I’m not sure.” God won’t be phased by that. We are allowed to be honest. We are allowed to express groans within our deepest sorrows.
Life is so hard right now. This life is far from perfect and really good people are wounded all the time. It doesn’t make sense and it may never make sense. We have to tell ourselves that making sense of everything isn’t the point. We are not here on this planet to be a puzzle master or to find all the answers to the deepest questions. We are here to be light. We are here to be helpers.
Our role isn’t to give all the best answers.
It’s not to go to our friends and loved ones and tell them to get over it or snap out of it. Maybe sitting with someone makes you feel helpless, makes you feel useless, but we can assure you that people in the face of grief and confusion sometimes just need someone to sit in the mess with them and not try to fix anything.
Some things won’t be fixed on this side of heaven. Some holes in our hearts will remain unfilled and bottomless. That’s okay. Really. Keep saying your prayers. Keep fighting to notice the miracles. Keep sitting with those in sorrow. It all adds up. It all means something.
Believe that with us today.