Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Joyfully attending the mourners

I have spent the past two weeks examining how joy can look through trials.  And I have landed where one should, when seeking this truth in scripture: God is sovereign.  Over both the good and the bad.   

Thus today, I will end this mini-series with a note for anyone who is not in time such as I, those who are dancing in the bright and open spaces.  Those who find themselves reveling in goodness.  For them, we look at Job’s friends and we can discern how to joyfully attend one who mourns.

Read: Job 2:1-13, 4:1-6:26
In Job’s case, the mourning we see is literal.  All his family, save his wife, has died.  His fortune decimated [which in that time and without children to attend him, made him a drain on society and even lower on the social food chain than widows and orphans]; his health suddenly deteriorated so that his is physically miserable every waking moment and unable to find respite in sleep.

Job’s friends, as is likely fitting when we look at chapters 4 through 6, get a bad rap more often than not.  And with our hindsight, with our knowledge of the end of Job’s story, it is easy to pin the moniker of “bad friend” on them.  However, we must examine their actions in sequence.  One of my favorite moments in the early chapters of Job comes in chapter 2, verses 11 through 13.  Job’s friends hear about what all has happened to him.  And they are compelled to go to him.  And comfort him.  And when they see him, they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, because they see how great his suffering is. 
There is something in each of us that pulls us to our loved ones when they’re hurting.  An urgent feeling of needing to be where they are.  Not for any particular purpose, but to lend comfort with our physical proximity.  Job’s friends heed this, and go to where he is, to simply be there with him in his pain.  Once they are there, they don’t utter a word for seven days or nights.  They know there is nothing they can say to pierce this pain.  Words are too flimsy and whatever they might say at this point would only serve to undo whatever comfort their presence has brought.  Attending Job in silence is the only thing they can do.  And it is enough.    

I find that this is the mark of a good friend.  Someone who can show up, uninvited, and just be.  Someone who listens if the mourner is ready to speak, and waits if the mourner is not.  Someone who, with their physical proximity to the situation, validates the pain of the mourner; whose presences says, “This hurts.  And it’s okay that it does.”  These are the types of friends we all need; the type we should be.     
Yet there are times in life when one’s mourning may not seem as warranted.  You might find a friend mourning the loss of a dream [career, house, opportunity, fill in the blank].  And it might seem foolish to grieve, even slightly, for something they never had.  You may, in light of whatever situation you encountered, be tempted to list all the things that are right in their life at that time; trying to call their mind to blessings and set them in a spirit of thankfulness.  But we are not the arbiters of pain, of what hurts whom, nor how much.  Our duty, as friend and Christ follower, is to mourn with those who mourn; and to rejoice with those who rejoice.  To not pass judgment on what should or shouldn’t hurt, or how much, or for how long.  And to check every word that you think should come out of your mouth before you spew it.  Yes, there will be times when you can impart truth into a life in desperate need of it.  But carefully measure your words; because the ill-timed comment or the thoughtless lesson can do more damage and cause further separation [at least initially] than loving silence. 

Thus we can look to Job for our times of sorrow.  We can find that regardless, God is sovereign.  And in Job’s friends, we can see how to love a friend through their trial…and how not to as well.         


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