At the kernel of every close relationship are the marks of friendship. As we cultivate friendship we strengthen the relationship. This is seen in marriage and parenting, too. It is good for us then to identify these qualities, and understand and practice them.
Another evidence of friendship is expressed by simply showing up and expressing heartfelt compassion when the other is hurting.
“To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend…” (Job 6:14)
Job was going through incredible pain and suffering, physically and emotionally, from the losses he had experienced. Because his three friends didn’t understand the depth of his sorrow and hurt they questioned his feelings and the expression of his despair. They lacked pity and compassion.
When our heart is broken at such a deep place and we feel no one can fully understand (and usually they can’t in every way) we yearn to know that someone just cares and feels our sorrow.
Again we see Job’s heart cry to his friends for mercy as he struggles with his loss and questions – “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.” (Job 19:21)
When C.S. Lewis’ wife died of bone cancer he wrote a memoir about his personal journey, “A Grief Observed“. It is a raw, but helpful book for those experiencing the loss of someone very close. He wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear“. When we grieve we discover emotions and feelings we have never known; we are utterly unprepared for it.
God comforts us (II Corinthians 1:3). He also gives us friends to minister comfort to us in these hours. Whenever a true friend is in trouble and hurting, though you may be many miles apart, his heart aches, too.
I read that the Indians in North America didn’t have a written alphabet, but their language and vocabulary was broad and eloquent. The French and English reported that their translation of the word “friend” was “one who carries my sorrows on his back“.
Here are a few suggestions to minister to your friends in times of suffering:
- Be there. Just show up. The best thing Job’s friends did was to get together and be there for him when he was hurting.
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.” (Job 2:11)
Notice the word “appointment“. They set a specific time; they intentionally came to “mourn with him and to comfort him“.
Sometimes when a friend is in trouble people stay away; perhaps they fear they won’t say the right thing. However, just being there speaks as loud as anything you can say; even better. Our presence is consolation and shows we love them and care.
The night before my Mom’s funeral service we received friends. It was a cold and rainy night; it wasn’t easy to get out. The date was December 22, a few days before Christmas; a most inconvenient time of year to get out – and in bad weather. I stood with my brother and sister as we greeted old friends, people very precious to us. Many had driven a long way just to speak to us for thirty seconds. Who would do that? Why do that? They were our friends.
Friends love you and want to comfort you in your suffering. They know a hug and a compassionate look in the eye speaks volumes.
Friendship shines brightest in times of suffering and loss.
- Weep with them. When Job’s friends first saw his physical condition, it touched them so deeply they wept for him.
“And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept….” (Job 2:12)
The word “compassion” means “to suffer with“. It is initiated by a comprehension of a need or state of suffering. The Bible often states that “Jesus (or other people) saw” a problem and then “were moved with compassion“. (See Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; I John 3:17).
Weeping follows seeing and then considering the suffering, pain and feelings of the other person. We are bereft of compassion because we are shallow in our thinking and selfish in our willingness to identify with the hurts of others. Friends don’t do this. They are thoughtful and compassionate.
- Be quiet. Friends don’t need to say “just the right thing” when the other is broken. No words are necessary. A hug or a pat on the shoulder will do for the moment. A true friend doesn’t feel the need to explain why something happened – he can listen. (We don’t know all of the reasons tragedy happens anyway). Talking about the “why” of a painful situation without genuinely feeling their loss is cruel to the one that hears such talk. The word “listen” has the same letters as the word “silent“.
This is where Job’s friends made their mistake. Their words to him were after they had sat with him for a while were laced with criticism and judgment. Initially, they simply ministered by their presence and their lack of advice.
“So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:13) It says, “they sat down with him“. Present, but not advisors. Quiet, but not indifferent.
It’s easy to come up with a solution when you are not the one experiencing the difficulty. John Galsworthy said, “Idealism increases in direct proportion to your distance from the problem.”
I’ll never forget as we drove up to the open grave of my Mom, two days before Christmas, a wonderful gift awaited. My wife was driving, I was in the front seat beside her, my daughter in the back, as we had followed the hearse into the cemetery. The funeral had been long – almost two hours. All of her children had spoken and most of the grandchildren.
Though I knew I would see her again, my heart was shattered for the moment. She had taken great care of me and influenced my life on so many levels. As we pulled to a stop beside the grave, at the top of a small hill 100 feet away, I was surprised to see something. It proved to be a sacred gift.
I recognized two friends from my school days. We rarely see each other, but there they were waiting, side by side. I don’t know how long they had been there, but there they were.
After the committal service the family stayed for a while and then began to gather in the cars to return to church for lunch. But I couldn’t leave yet. For whatever reason I am very sentimental and feel deeply – moments and events are sacred to me. I wasn’t going to leave until they finished everything at the burial site. I felt it was a duty of sorts. Perhaps it was because I was her oldest and had been with her the longest.
Soon it was just Paula, myself, and the cemetery workers filling the hole in the ground with the dirt, a cold wind blowing on all of us. My two friends from school days were there, too. They stayed. I stood and watched the final tasks and didn’t say a word to anyone.
At one time these two buddies and myself sat in classrooms together, rode in the same cars, sat down in Hogan’s Groceries, drank cokes and ate candy bars and a lot of other things that kids do. Now, we were in our 60’s, in a time of shared sorrowing. They were helping me to carry my pain, just by being there.
As the final part of the grave was being filled, one of my friends walked over and stood by me and put his hand on my shoulder. He never said a word. He just stood there beside me, a strong hand on my shoulder. We were both quiet in school, not many knew who we were. But he sought me out in my need on that day and he was a giant to me.
A broken-hearted man with two old friends offering the consolation of their presence. And I will never forget them or that moment. That is what friends do for each other. And that is what families are to do for one another.
In the family circle there will be pain and loss. Sometimes we won’t have any words; there are no explanations on this side of Heaven. That will come later.
But we can be there for our children, weep with our wife or husband, and be quiet and listen when they are hurting. This is the way we show we care. We need friends in our home.