“Well intentioned advice may sometimes do more harm than good. The behavior of Job’s friends gives a classic example of how pride and a sense of being right can stifle true compassion. the friends repeated pious phrases and argued theology with Job, insisting on their wrong-headed notions suffering (notions that still abound). Job’s response: “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom” (Job 13.4-5). As it turned out, the most compassionate thing the friends did for Job took place at the very beginning, when they sat in silence with him for seven days.” Philip Yancey The Bible Jesus Read
I’ve been reading A LOT of books and commentaries on the book of Job. Because of my own personal journey but also because I encounter people every day who are suffering and in pain.
I’ve spent the majority of my career caring for those in pain of one kind or another. If I’ve learned one thing from people in pain, especially those who are suffering unjustly, it’s that they simply want to be heard. They want to know that their pain matters. They want their suffering to have meaning. They really do not want my pat, religious answers to their pain. They want an audience with the only one who can give meaning to their suffering: God. They want permission to rage.
Again from Yancey’s book:
“God did not condemn Job’s doubt and despair, only his ignorance. The phrase “the patience of Job” hardly fits the stream of invective that poured from Job’s mouth. Job did not take his pain meekly; he cried out in protest to God. His strong remarks scandalized his friends but not God. Need we worry about somehow insulting God with an outburst triggered by stress or pain? Not according to this book. Ina touch of supreme irony, God ordered Job’s friends to seek repentance from Job himself, the object of their pious condescension.”
I’ve spent the last two years filling journal after journal with Job-like questions and outburst of anger and rage at circumstances: What have I done to deserve this God? What do I need to repent of? Just tell me what I need to do and I will do it God! I’ve fasted and prayed. I’ve confessed and repented. I’ve gotten prayer. I’ve sought the wisdom and advise of those older and infinitely more wise than me. What more can I do? Just talk to me!! Thank God for the book of Job and the permission it grants us to come before God with all of our emotions and thoughts, no matter how dark or desperate and seemingly lacking in faith they are.
I’ve learned what not to do and say from well-meaning people who have said all sorts of “right sounding” things to me in an attempt to help me get better. It only made things worse for me.
I have learned THE MOST FROM a few friends and my simply amazing and godly husband who stood by and with me during the last couple of years. Years which has been the most painful, confusing and traumatizing of my life. One of these friends put it well when they said they feel like they have been sitting silently in an open grave with me for the past year. It takes an amazing human being and committed follower of Jesus to simply choose to sit in an open grave with someone while they grieve and rage and weep and question everything about their faith walk without condemning or offering up unwanted and usually unhelpful advise. These friends and my husband and kids did not try to talk me out of my pain, explain the unexplainable or divert me from the process of working this out with Jesus and on His time-table. They were not ashamed nor were they embarrassed by my emotional pain, mental anguish or spiritual oppression. They didn’t shame me when I demanded answers from God by telling me my faith was weak and I “Just needed to trust God in this.” I knew that! But I still wanted answers. I still wanted God to speak into the pain and give it meaning. But, amazing friends and family that they are, they also gently and firmly held me accountable to my thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors.
Sometimes the best way to help another person in pain is to simply be selfless enough to sit in an open grave with them and help them hang on to the hem of Jesus’ robe. The best way to help another person in pain is to acknowledge the pain and be the kind of long-term friend/pastor/spouse/parent/child/leader who will see you through all the way to the other side without once abandoning ship to save your own skin.
This experience has forever changed how I will serve and minister to the broken and hurting in life. I will still use the skill set and the gifts the Holy Spirit has given me to counsel and coach, but it comes from a totally different place with a renewed perspective and empathy like I have never had before. AND a deep respect for the gift of silence.
Finally, to those of you who sat with me in the grave
You know who you are and I would not be at this place of peace and joy without your quiet, humble, loving support. I am eternally and deeply grateful for you.