The Other Lesson From Job’s Friend
My wife’s mother passed away on Monday at the age of 98. We have taken care of her for the last 10+ years; most of that time in our home and the last few years as the “primary care-givers” while she was in a nursing home. One thing we learned from this is that, no matter how old the person is or how long you have been half-expecting this day, grief hurts.
The other lesson we learned, although admittedly we knew it already, is that nobody knows exactly what to say to people who grieve. You can sense their awkwardness, the awareness that no words are sufficient to convey our emotions at the time. We always need to extend grace to those who grieve, forgiving them for their not-quite-right expressions of grief. In the same way we need to extend grace to those who try and comfort us when their words do not comfort.
I’ve noticed that there is a pattern to comfort-attempts gone wrong. There seem to be three distinct groups people can fall into. The first I call “the grief story teller.” These are the folks who, when they talk to you, have stories of their own grief, usually explaining how you are lucky that you didn’t have it as bad as they did. When your loved one was 98 there are any number of people willing to tell you “worse” stories.
The second is the “Bible verse expert .” They tell us that “we sorrow not at others who have no hope” or that “joy comes in the morning” or that God will not “give us more than we can bear” or, my favorite, that “God works all things together for good.” We know these verses are true but, frankly, hearing them doesn’t help.
The third is the “everything is going to be OK” person. These well-meaning folks want to pep talk you out of your pain and in doing so unintentionally minimize your pain.
Down through history the prime example of comfort gone wrong has been Job’s friends. As they sought to analyze and explain what has happened to the devastated Job they ended up piling pain after pain on his head. While this is truly a lesson we can learn in times of grief, there is also another lesson they give us and it is actually a very good one.
When Job’s three friends showed up they had their finest hours. The first thing they did was to sit silently for one week. Had they stopped there, had they just gotten up and hugged Job before they left, we would see them today as heroes. They would have expressed their grief through their presence and that is the most comforting of all.
In today’s time presence can be expressed in a variety of ways. A visit, a card, an e-mail, a hug, can all express presence. We are truly grateful for friends and family who have comforted us with their presence. These are the people who have learned well the other lesson of Job’s friends and we thank you all.