“being there”

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:11-13

If you’re familiar with the story of Job, you probably remember how greatly he suffered. Within a few days, raiders murdered all his employees and servants, destroyed his livelihood, and stole all his possessions; a house collapsed and crushed all of his children to death; he contracted a horrible, painful disease; and his wife left him. You may also remember that his friends kind of sucked. They told him he must have done something to deserve everything that happened to him. They presumed to have a handle on his problems, and they responded mostly by offering explanations, solutions, platitudes, and even accusations. God later rebuked them for their presumption (Job 42:7).

Yet, his friends were not all bad. God rebuked them but did not punish them, and forgave them soon after. These verses from Job 2 demonstrate the depth of their friendship with Job. Can you imagine sitting beside someone, silently, for an entire week? A few minutes of silence go by and I can hardly hold myself back from speaking, if just to break the quiet. In that way I am even more presumptuous than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They came to Job with a deeply felt respect for his pain, a deeply shared grief, and an amazing solidarity with him as his friends. Seven full days went by, and still, they allowed him to be the first to speak.

There is something beautiful about just “being there” for someone. It says: I’m not here to fix you. I am hurt by what’s hurting you but I don’t fully understand what you’re going through, for ‘each heart knows its own bitterness’ (Proverbs 14:10). You are not a project to me. All I want you to know is that I’m here, I love you, I respect you. I want to help carry your burden (Galatians 6:2).

That kind of friendship can speak volumes more than a flat “don’t worry, God is in control” or “what do you think God is trying to teach you?” Is God in control? Yes. Is he using our circumstances to teach us about himself? Yes. Is it real love to respond to someone’s pain with an easy generality, which, if they are anything like me, they will promptly ignore? Not so much. That’s just the way Job’s friends let him down. Does God oppose the wicked and bless the righteous? Indeed. Is that the truth Job needed to hear be extrapolated upon for some 40 chapters? Certainly not.

In hard times, I don’t want friends who run, and I don’t want friends who preach. I don’t want friends with all the answers. What I want is friends who love me “steadfastly,” as the Bible puts it. I want friends who mourn with me while I mourn, and who let me grieve with the kind of honesty of a Psalm 88 or 137. I want friends who, through their own rock solid trust in God’s goodness, remind me who my King is.

Outside Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus was one-hundred percent confident of his own power and glory. He knew exactly what he planned to do. Yet when he saw Mary’s weeping, he felt her grief deep in his spirit and wept right along with her (John 11:32-36). He did not preach at Mary and Martha, though he did gently remind them of who he was (vs. 26-27). He gave great dignity to their sorrow simply by sharing in it as a friend. The King of Glory felt the pain of the human condition more deeply than any of us.

That is the kind of friend I want to be. I want my faith in God to be so unshakable that a suffering person can see it even when all they are thinking is “why me?” I want my compassion to be so real that they take my faith seriously. I want to refrain from quoting Bible verses or sermons long enough for the person to actually desire the wisdom found in them. God help me to know how to point to the Redeemer not with a finger, or a lecture, or a cliché, but with the steadfastness of faith expressing itself through love.

At this,  Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:20-21

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

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