comfort empathy

How to be the Worst Friend to the Hurting

12:52 PMHeather

The patience of Job.

Wiktionary explains this familiar colloquialism: "from the Bible Book of Job where Job demonstrated faith and patience with God while suffering many severe trials. First mentioned in the Bible as such in James 5:11."

Patience with God.

Interesting. Because, yes, Job endured much and wrestled it all through with God, crying out in lamenting prayers with great authenticity.

But have you read Job lately?

Because I have to say that I think the patience of Job is also about how he endured his friends.

Yep. Right smack dab in the middle of all that suffering and pain, he gets a triple dose of friends who were the worst. 

They couldn't just be the strong, silent type. They couldn't just sit and listen and be near.

These three amigos tell Job he is being punished for sins. Doesn't every grieving and afflicted person want to hear that in their time of greatest need? 

They tell him that his ten children were killed as punishment for their own sins (Job 8:4). 

They actually say that they wish "God would speak that he would open his lips against you," and these "friends" tell Job to be quiet and quit talking because "your own lips testify against you."

In the long list of "things NOT to say to a hurting friend," I particularly note how Eliphaz arrogantly announces, "Listen to me, and I will explain it to you... all his days the wicked man suffers torment." 

Yes, you who are hurting in ways I never have, here's what to do. You listen to me, and I will explain it to you. I have this all figured out. Even though, never have I ever, gone through this.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

I love Job's response. It makes me want to cheer.

"Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping," (Job 13:5).

Here's the thing. Here's what I'm seeing all around me, when it comes to topics of systemic racism and sexual harassment or assault and politics and any number of horrible, painful things happening in the world.

The problem is that we tend to be just like Job's friends. 

We all dare to open our mouths to answer to and explain the suffering of others. We arrogantly think we have something to add to the discussion. 

All the while, the hurting really just want us to sit with them and listen and allow our presence to offer comfort. Debate and discussion are not high on the list when your heart is bleeding out from wounds and injustice.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The truth is that no one who is suffering wants your explanation and assessment of their situation. When others experience misfortunes we have never experienced, we simply cannot speak into it. When we do, we usually misspeak and we often add more wounding to a tender place.

Please, for the love of seeking healing and community. We don't need to be Job's friends, thinking we have it all figured out. All the Jobs we know in our lives actually just want to not be alone in their pain. They want to be heard and held, and that is the best gift we offer.

We, who experience white privilege, would do well to zip our lips from explanations of life experiences we've never encountered.

We, who have never been on the receiving end of sexual harassment or assault, would do well to just listen to the stories of those who have. 

We, who have never been a refugee or a cancer patient or a mother whose child is dealing with mental illness -- our best support is usually just our constant presence and prayers.

We sit behind our computer screens and the veil of Twitter and Facebook and we throw out our expertise and explanations, speaking into situations, and we forget.

We arrogantly forget that we are not expert witnesses. And behind the issues are actual people with deep wounds and great angst.

Our words are not necessary.

The raw emotions in the middle of suffering need the balm of a love that boldly allows uncomfortable silence and a steadfast presence even when it's uncomfortable to us. Actually, especially when it's uncomfortable to us.

It calls for us to bravely stay near, listening to their stories, holding their hands.

If you have to say something, here are the best words to say. Repeat after me.

"I'll walk this road with you. Can I do anything to help, besides stay near?"

Lean in and listen closely. Just carry their load with them. 

Silently. Without a need to explain things.

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