I don’t know a soul who enjoys suffering. As my wife’s cousin often said, “Pain hurts.” Too many of us walk the road of suffering, and although it’s not our choice to walk that road, we learn to walk it anyway.
But how do we help someone who is walking their own path of hurt?
- “My co-worker is back in the office from burying his father. He’s sad, but I don’t know if I should do anything. Maybe I’ll just put a card on his desk.”
- “I know I should go see her in the hospital, but I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Most of us find it easier to deal with our own suffering than to deal with someone else’s. So let me give you the conclusion of this blog now. Here are the steps to helping a friend in pain.
- Be there.
- Repeat step one.
Seriously, that’s it. You don’t have to say a word. You’re not required to bring a casserole. But your presence communicates care, love, and comfort. The old saying “Misery loves company” is intended to communicate that miserable people are happy when other people are miserable too, but I have discovered a completely different principle in that statement: People in misery love the presence of others. Even those who think they just want to be alone benefit from knowing someone is there with them.
The oldest book in the Bible is the account of Job, a man who experienced a level of sorrow, grief, and pain we cannot imagine. The bulk of the Book of Job carries a dialogue between Job and three friends who blasted him and blamed him for his problems. They exasperated Job, who finally proclaimed, “You are all miserable comforters” (Job 16:2).
Job’s friends, though, had the makings of being great comforters. At least they started out that way.
“Now when Job’s three friends —Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite —heard about all this adversity that had happened to him, each of them came from his home. They met together to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they looked from a distance, they could barely recognize him. They wept aloud, and each man tore his robe and threw dust into the air and on his head. Then they sat on the ground with him seven days and nights, but no one spoke a word to him because they saw that his suffering was very intense” (2:11-13).
They sat with him … and no one spoke a word! They were great counselors just by their presence. But they ruined it all by opening their mouths.
Don’t underestimate the power of your presence. In their moment of suffering, you’ve given your friend the gift of your presence, a gift of time that communicates you care and value them. And as a follower of Christ, you communicate the presence of Christ.
When his family went through suffering, John S. Feinberg discovered that many friends tried to “help” by relaying theological truths. He couldn’t deny the truth behind these statements, but they can make lousy comforters in times of hurt.
- “It’ll be OK. In the end, all evil will be judged.”
- “God is not unjust or unfair; we just can’t fully understand His ways.”
- “God is perhaps using this problem to spare you from a greater one.”
- “Remember: God works all things together for good.” [Source: John S. Feinberg, “A Journey in Suffering: Personal Reflections on the Religious Problem of Evil,” in Suffering and the Goodness of God, eds. Morgan and Peterson, p. 222.]
D. A. Carson wrote:
“There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals. This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the ‘miserable comforter’ who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive, or whose true theology is couched in such culture-laden clichés that they grate rather than comfort.” [Source. See February 17 reading.]
Just be there for your friend. I can’t state it any more simply. He doesn’t always need to hear theological truths. In fact, the greatest truth he will experience will be the presence of Christ in you.
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