One of the hardest things as a friend to us parents that lose a child is figuring out how to be friend to us parents that just lost our child. There are so many things that run through a person’s mind: What should I say? What should I do? How can I encourage them? What if I make it worse?
Sometimes there’s an intense pressure to it, because you can see the intense pain that we’re going through. Since you’re a friend, you care deeply. That’s what being a friend is all about. As a friend who cares, sometimes there is a strong desire to try and say that one perfect thing, or do that one perfect thing that takes all the pain away. It hurts, because no one knows how to do that one thing. It can get helpless, or frantic, or become a very desperate situation.
I’ve been bouncing around some ideas, and I want to throw one out there tonight. When you first see the reference, it’s going to sound strange, really off the wall. Hang on for the ride. It will be worth it.
When we go to the Bible and read through Job, we’re faced right away with the story of a man who has it all and watches his earthly life completely fall apart very dramatically, in the blink of an eye. The odd idea I want to throw out there is that his friends give us a good picture of being a friend to someone that’s hurting like parents who have lost their children, because they are friends to a man who just lost his children. Let me post a little passage here:
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. (NKJV)
Usually, we get pretty excited and fired up about people in Job and their different reactions, because we don’t take the time to understand that these were actual people dealing with real life. Job’s friends really take a beating, because they say a lot after this passage, and it doesn’t go very well. For full disclosure here, I’ve done it myself. In fact, my final paper before graduating seminary was an assignment to analyze the argument of a selected friend of Job. Naturally, the professor got a paper titled “Zo close, yet Zophar away.” I’ve done it myself, but I want to approach them differently here, and note that they did the most important things that our friends can do:
1. They cried for him. They understood the pain as best they could, and felt it with him as well as they could.
2. They went right to their friend. Job’s friends knew that he needed them, and that’s where they wanted to be. It took some travel, and it was hard, but they did it. That sacrifice means a lot. We know that you’re busy, and this shows us that you care.
3. They stayed with their friend. Job’s friends stayed there for 7 days. Essentially, they dropped everything and focused on their hurting friend. They let Job know that they cared, not by anything fancy, but simply by being there with their hurting friend. It’s not realistic to ask our friends to drop everything and sit there with us for a week, but we need people that will stop what they’re doing and spend that time with us. We need to know that something is still right with the world, and friends that make it important enough to stay with us tell us that. If you let us know that you’re too busy, don’t worry about next time.
4. They didn’t say anything for those 7 days. Anyone that’s taught or preached Job has made the mandatory jokes about how things went when Job’s friends spoke, and it did go badly. Being fair, they were speaking the truth as they understood it, and were making an earnest, honest attempt to help their friend. Speaking to grieving people is hard. We’re not thinking straight. We don’t focus well. We’re as confused as confused can be, because all we knew was that we had a healthy child on the way and now the baby is dead. We’re not going to be prepared for anything fancy. Whether it turns into an overt confrontation, quiet resentment, or something else, it’s not going to go well. We’re not designed for that. So I’m typing this without an intent to insult Job’s friends: the best thing they did was to spend those seven days silently letting their friend know that they cared, simply by being there. When it’s time to talk, you’re the ones that we’ll be looking for, because we know that you care. You showed us as clearly as we would ever hope.
To quote something from Dr. Ernie Schmidt, the professor who got that paper with that title, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” All we need to know is that you care.
All that to say this: Let your friend know that you care the old-fashioned way. Show up. Stay with them. Let them know that they matter to you. They will never forget.
In the end, you’ll make the cut. When you’ve been there for the bad times, and wept with us while we’re weeping, you get to be there for the joyous time, when we’re crying for entirely different reasons. Come for the pain. Stay for the rejoicing. It’ll happen eventually, and it is sweeter than you can possibly imagine!
OK, stop reading. Go show up somewhere!