This section, (part 3), looks at how Job's friends helped him greatly at first and gives examples from my experience of how friends can really help. It then looks at the things his friends did that weren't helpful, and what he says he would do if others were grieving.

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The Help of Friends

by Mindy Wilsford

Copyright © 2004 Mindy Wilsford

As time passed, I soon realized that God was giving me the strength to get through this. But he did it more through others than I would have initially thought. I quickly realized that I couldn’t do it without their help, and that was very humbling.

Learn more about helping a grieving friend.

OK, now this is the passage to highlight in your bible; the place to go when someone you know is going through a trial and you think, “I don’t know what to do.” Come here to see what to do.

11 Now when Job's three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place--Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. 12 And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. 13 So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.
Job 2:11-13 (NKJV)

Look at how supportive his friends were! They did several things that were helpful:

  1. They made an appointment to mourn with him and comfort him. They went out of their way to be there for him.

    One of the most important things anyone did to support me was letting me just talk and cry. I don't know how many times I appeared at Kathy’s door, and she just invited me in as if people showed up in tears at her door every day. And she heard the same things over and over, day after day, because it took a long time to work through the things in my heart.

    A few weeks ago, several people commented to me about how much I seemed to be enjoying myself at a recent covered dish dinner. This is significant, because during a trial, social events are often very hard. For at least a year, I didn't make it through a covered dish without having to go cry. About a year ago, when I was in my usual spot, crying, Kathy came out and asked me if I wanted to go to the cemetery. So she took me to the cemetery. And then she did the most incredible thing: she said, "Tell me about Abigail. Tell me about when you gave her the bath. Tell me about when the kids held her. Tell me about when you brought her home." And I got to talk and cry until I was ready to go back to the dinner.

    That is making an appointment to mourn with someone.

  2. They wept with him.

    It says they raised their eyes from afar and didn't recognize him. Obviously he was sick so his physical appearance was different. But I think it was much more than that. He had been a wealthy, confident, strong man, and now he was broken with grief. They didn’t try to cheer him up, but they cried with him because they could tell just how hard it was.

    I have a friend at work, Cari, in whose office I also spent a lot of time crying. And when I would cry, she would just reach over and hand me the box of tissues. She didn’t look away or say something to change the subject. Her actions told me, “it’s ok for you to weep with me.” Weeping with someone doesn’t need to be literal; it just means we don’t pretend we didn’t notice the tears but instead we tell them its ok to cry and we’ll be there for them - as long and as often as needed.

    That is weeping with someone.

  3. They stayed with him - silently - for 7 days (that would probably be a lot harder for women – to be silent for 7 days).

    They let Job take the lead – he didn’t feel like talking, so they just stayed with him. We often feel like we need to have the right, profound words to say that will fix things.
    But there is a song by Third Day called, “When the Rain Comes” that to me says it all.
    “I can’t stop the rain…..from falling down on you again.
    I can’t stop the rain…..but I will hold you till it goes away.”
    We can't stop the rain. We can't take away the pain. We can't fix it, but we can be there with them and hold them for as long as it takes. That is a much greater gift than we realize.

But once Job started sharing his grief with his friends, they made their first mistake: they started to talk! They felt they had to respond. But Job didn’t want them to fix it, just listen and try to understand. Here's what they did wrong:

  1. They tried to give advice.

    8 "But as for me, I would seek God,
    And to God I would commit my cause--
    Job 5:8 (NKJV)

    Well, here’s what I would do. Usually statements like that are greatly oversimplifying the situation and make the sufferer feel like we are saying, “what’s the big deal? Just do this”. Reality is much, much different from all the hypothetical situations we could ever devise. Advice is usually not welcome unless asked for. And even if asked for, it's like when we ask our husbands, "Does this make me look fat?" Be very careful when giving advice.

  2. This may surprise you, but they tried to quote Scripture to him.

    17 "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects;
    Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.
    Job 5:17 (NKJV)

    Yes, those things are true, all Scripture is true. But Job was thinking, "my head already knows these things. It’s my heart that I’m struggling with. This isn’t helping me! Just support me as I struggle with my heart.

  3. They indicated that if he had more faith or was more holy God would take his pain away.

    5 If you would earnestly seek God
    And make your supplication to the Almighty,
    6 If you were pure and upright,
    Surely now He would awake for you,
    And prosper your rightful dwelling place.
    Job 8:5-6 (NKJV)

    It is often unspoken (whether we realize it or not) that we believe that the sufferer is somehow lacking in faith or faithfulness because they have to go through this trial. Sometimes that is true, but very often it isn’t. But have you ever thought about some of the things we say in an effort to comfort? “God does everything for a reason”, “it’s for the best”. Or we try to “relate” by sharing a “close call” that we had that turned out OK. Those things are like a knife in the heart; they just make the sufferer think, “why me?” Why do I need to learn this lesson that others don’t? Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Is it because my faith is weak? The head knows that’s not the case, but the heart is still struggling with it. And the result is that we want to comfort but often cause doubt instead.

Job also feels deserted by his friends and family.

13 "He has removed my brothers far from me,
And my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
14 My relatives have failed,
And my close friends have forgotten me.
Job 19:13-14 (NKJV)

They don’t understand him. Maybe they are tired of the sadness, the sorrow, the pain. But just when he needs friends the most, he feels deserted by them. This, unfortunately, is rather common when people go through trials. Some people are so uncomfortable that they disappear. Or, maybe worse, they don’t disappear but never ever mention the situation again, making the topic a “forbidden” one. We might as well disappear if we are going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

From my journal – at a social event where I was seeing people for the first time since losing Abigail: There were a few friends who completely avoided me. They never even said hello to me or looked me in the eye. I just wanted to tell them, "It's not contagious!" I know that they just didn't think they could deal with it, but it's only 15 minutes for them; for me it's for the rest of my life. I just didn't realize that in addition to losing Abigail I would also lose some friends. That is so sad.

Job tells us what we should expect from a friend.

14 "To him who is afflicted, kindness should be shown by his friend,
Even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
Job 6:14 (NKJV)

One thing this experience has taught me is not to see things as so black and white as I used to. I am much quicker to put myself in another’s shoes. Even if someone made a bad choice in the midst of their suffering, I now realize that my job is not to keep pointing that out to them but to help them find healing and forgiveness. This is when I can really show God’s love: by supporting them as they work through that head / heart struggle.

Then he tells them how HE would do it if they needed comfort:

1 Then Job answered and said:
2 "I have heard many such things;
Miserable comforters are you all!
3 Shall words of wind have an end?
Or what provokes you that you answer?
4 I also could speak as you do,
If your soul were in my soul's place.
I could heap up words against you,
And shake my head at you;
5 But I would strengthen you with my mouth,
And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.
Job 16:1-5

We need to be sure that our words strengthen others and relieve their grief, not heap up words against them. One thing to never do is to start a sentence with the words, “at least”. At least you have your other kids. At least she didn’t suffer. At least you know she’s in heaven. At least you can have another one. By saying those things it sounds like we are minimizing their pain, like we are saying, “look on the bright side”. Sisters, there IS NO bright side in a cocoon. We need to avoid trying to reason with their heads when their struggle is with their heart. Someday they may even say these things themselves, but until then, it’s not OUR job to tell them!

We have 2 cats. Actually they have us. Sarah loves to carry the cat. Unfortunately, she does it by the neck. The cat tolerates it, but walks away whenever she can. If she goes under the table, Sarah gets her. If she goes under the couch, Sarah gets her. Finally the cat has had enough and scratches her. It’s not the cat’s fault. It can only take so much, even if she means well.

Those who are hurting are the same when we heap up words against them, even if we mean well. They put up with it until they can’t take it anymore and lash back at us. And when they “scratch” us like the cat, we don’t need to get offended or upset with them. Too often we get upset with them and make it about US instead of supporting them. Let’s not add to the weight of their burden by causing them to have to struggle with resentment as well.

Hopefully we can strengthen them with our mouths and relieve their grief.
- And cheer them on when they achieve a victory – no matter how small.

One night at supper while I was having a really bad stretch, we were eating and Sarah asked me, "are you having a sad day?" And I said, "no, not really." And she asked, "Is it a GOOD day?" And I said, "Yes, I guess it is." And she put her arms up like she was signaling a touchdown and shouted, "IT'S A GOOD DAY!" I got a laugh and got the chance to celebrate a small victory – a good day.

Part 1: Job's struggle | Part 2: Job's Heart | Part 4: Job's Gift
Main Grief Resources | Helping a Grieving Friend | My Grief Journal

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