How can you mourn with those who mourn? (Rom 12:15)
For once, I think Job’s friends got it right.
I have often been in the position of trying to comfort others, not just as a friend, but also in a professional capacity since I work every day with people who are struggling with depression, grief, and loss. Recently I found myself on the receiving end of consolation from others when my father unexpectedly went to be with the Lord. I saw that in a very real sense everyone experiences grief and loss differently and not everyone needs the same thing; sometimes what someone needs may seem to defy conventional wisdom.
My wife shared with me something that struck her while reading Job. After Job’s tremendous losses (Job 1:13-2:8)—losing thousands of animals and servants, his ten children, and his own physical health and comfort—his friends came to comfort him in that unfathomably dark time of his life. Job was so profoundly grief-stricken that when three friends came to bring sympathy and comfort, from a distance they did not even recognize him. His appearance was such a shocking sight that they “raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:12-13).
Although Job’s friends have a reputation for giving a lot of misguided and discouraging advice, here they knew exactly what Job needed. They were with him for seven full days but did not speak. Finally, when it was time for something to be said, Job was the first to break the silence. And his were not hopeful words… in fact he cursed the day he was born and said, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes” (Job 3:26). I imagine that is not what most of us hope to hear when we are trying to cheer someone up. However, our job is not to smooth over someone else’s pain or immediately look for a silver lining in their grief. I know for me it’s hard to resist the temptation, the urge, to say something to try to remove some of the sting from their loss or at least break the painful silence.
My father’s passing was (and is) a devastating loss for us who are left behind with the pain we face in our earthly lives. Immediately I received an incredible outpouring of support and condolences, even from old friends I hadn’t seen in years. People dropped by with cards or food or offered to talk on the phone. It was moving and comforting to see how much my father had meant to so many people and I am so grateful for everyone’s love during that time. But unexpectedly, the hardest part for me as our family received all this attention was that I didn’t really want a “sounding board” or a sympathetic ear or someone who could relate. Often I wanted to sit and feel sad or tired or numb or whatever else and just… be. Maybe it is my personality or my “processing style” or feeling like I need to reach out to people on my own terms, but for me, not only was it “a time to mourn” and “a time to weep”, but it often felt like “a time to keep silence”, and not yet “a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3). I suspect others have had this same experience.
I just want to encourage you as the friend or family member of someone who will at some point experience a great loss, if you don’t know what to say, that is truly okay. When someone needs you to “be there” for them, it may be as simple as just literally, physically being there… low stimulation, muted. You don’t have to ask whether it was unexpected or how they are doing. You don’t have to think of the right thing to say. You can just sit with them. They may need to just… be.
You are with them, so they know your heart is with them, too.
Enter in carefully, lovingly, softly, and don’t be afraid to sit quietly, to weep with those who weep.