When Grief is Not Our Own

I have friends who are wrestling with some pretty heavy stuff. Disappointment and conflict at their jobs, disillusionment with their church, unplanned pregnancies, loved ones lost. And my natural tendency in everything is to want to fix it. I want to identify the problem, analyze it, and provide an optimal solution to improve the situation moving forward. It’s how I’m wired. But in those instances, I find I can do very little as a “fixer”. It leaves me in a place of frustration, confusion, and sadness. Ultimately, I absolutely know that God has a plan and that even when I don’t understand what’s going on, He does. But how does that help my friends who are in it right now? Is that any immediate consolation.

Common practice within our churches says yes. But if you ask those people in the grieving process, the last thing they want to be constantly reminded of is how little they ultimately had to say about what happened. While it may be true, timing is everything. And so I’ve learned over time that the best complimentary skills a fixer like me can have in his toolbox are silence and adjacency.

When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.  -Job 2.11-13

What turns out to be a story of three friends offering poor advice for 40 chapters starts out amazingly well. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar heard about Job’s troubles and traveled together to be with Job. And when they arrived, they grieved openly with him and didn’t speak a word for a full week. Things didn’t turn sour until one of them decided it was time to share some of his own “wisdom” on what had happened.

Were Job’s friends completely wrong in some of their assessment? Not entirely. Job maintained he was an innocent and righteous man who had done nothing wrong in his life and thereby he had the right to question God about what he was doing. The friends tried to set Job straight, but couldn’t have chosen a worse time in his life to do so. In the end, God himself reminds Job that his wisdom is barely a drop in the bucket compared to God’s and that no amount of man’s righteousness can add up to that of the sovereign creator of the universe who has existed before time.

It’s a powerful message and a compelling argument. But it’s one that the Father needs to make. Not us. The best thing Job’s friends did was show up. That alone speaks volumes of their friendship. But the worst thing they did was speak up. People don’t want platitudes and pithy sayings when they’re deeply grieving. Frankly, it’s offensive. So the next time we are walking through stages of grief with someone, perhaps we should consider saying much less and simply sitting a little closer for a little longer.

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