What should you do when someone you care about has just suffered a tragedy? All of us will eventually have someone close to us who has encountered a severe accident, had a wayward child, or lost a family member in death. Crises in life happen to us all. But what do you say to someone whose heart is grieving and broken? How can you in any way be of help to them when they need you the most?
We don’t always realize it, but our best lessons from the Lord can come out of our worst possible heartaches. The book of Job has some very specific examples of what to do, what to say, and how to help those who hurt. If we can learn these principles and then brand them deep into our minds, we can be well prepared to adequately minister to friends and family alike, at a time when they really need us.
The first two chapters of the book of Job record a series of terrible calamities that fell on this great saint in rapid succession. All of Job’s children were killed when “a great wind” destroyed the house they were in. Invaders plundered his possessions and wealth. His health was stricken by painful boils from head to foot. Then, his wife urged him to abandon his previous close walk with the Lord when she tells him to “curse God, and die.” If ever a man needed the comfort and encouragement of friends, Job surely did.
Fortunately, Job had three friends who cared about him enough to demonstrate their concern for him in this time of abject sorrow. If you read through the record of the entire book, it is easy to see that they surely didn’t do everything right. In fact, there were several things they did that were not only wrong, they were absolutely the worst things they could have done. But, what we want to emphasize is the four things Job’s friends did right, because these are the things we should always put into practice when someone we care about is going through hurtful experiences.
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all the evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place…for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him” (Job 2:11).
One of the most important and urgent things we need to do when friends are in times of great hardship is to simply be there. This must not be a time when good intentions on our part go unfulfilled or unexpressed. This must not be a time when we avoid our friends because we feel awkward about what to say or do. We simply need to be there by their side, get there fast, and make being there a top priority in our life. Regardless of how busy our lives are, or even whatever troubled waters may have existed between us and our friend, we need to get to the side of our hurting friends quickly. Job’s friends are to be praised for this kindness.
Two brothers had been estranged for 15 years—no phone calls, visits, cards, or inquiries had been exchanged between them for these many years. Then, one day, the teenage son of one of these brothers intentionally took his own life in a tragic car wreck. As soon as the other brother heard about this heartbreak, he immediately jumped in the car to drive the 10 miles to his brother’s home. He didn’t know whether he would be received or asked to leave when he arrived, he only knew he needed to be there. As he stepped out of his car, his grieving brother walked out of his front door and to the edge of his front porch. Then, the heartbroken brother heard these tender words, “I just heard about your son and I want you to know I am so very sorry.” Instantly, tears began to roll down the faces of both these rugged men, and they fell into each others arms. I know because I was there to see it. Years of estrangement melted and the relationship was restored because someone was simply there in a time of need. If you want to help those who hurt, be there!
As we look back to the record of Job 2:11, we learn that his friends were there with him for some time too. “They sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights.” A quick visit to those whose hearts are breaking is most certainly better than nothing, but it is far better to go and be there with them in an unhurried manner. Putting a halt to your schedule in this way demonstrates how highly you regard the one who is hurting and how deeply you desire to be of comfort to them.
When my father lay in the hospital during his last days, our long-time friend Tommy drove over 500 miles by himself to be by the side of our family. He insisted on staying in a nearby hotel so that he would not in any way bring us added duties. But, for days he quietly sat or stood beside the family, whether at the hospital or for brief periods of rest at the house. He could have sent flowers, mailed a card, or even made a few phone calls of inquiry. But he decided to give our family what we needed the most when our hearts were breaking. He chose to simply be there when we needed him most. For this precious gift of kindness, our family will be forever grateful, and hold him in even higher esteem than we did before.
Job told his friends that had come to comfort him that “my kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:14). It wounded him deeply that those who should have stood beside him in his time of need, for whatever reason, had chosen not to. In a very real sense, the test of one’s friendship is measured in the waters of adversity. During times of great hardship, those who are hurting may not be physically, mentally, or emotionally able to take care of the regular duties of life. So this is a perfect time for true friends to help answer the phone, fix meals, care for children, run errands, provide transportation and more. Perhaps most of all, it is important for people to not be alone when going through times of hardship. These are the times when companionship is a great comfort. Job’s friends realized they needed to be there for their friend. We do too.
For seven days and nights Job’s friends did something amazing.
“None spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:13).
They came to be there with him and simply be quiet. Sometimes that is the very best thing to do. People who are grieving don’t always want or need to talk. When they are ready, as in the case of Job (Job 3:1), they will open up. When they do, it is best to let them guide the conversation. That way we can learn what is on their heart and how best to minister to them. It is a time for us to be a good listener and very carefully choose our words.
The day after my father passed away, a number of fine people came to the side of our family to comfort us. With all of the best intentions in the world, I was amazed at some of the things people had to say. “He lived longer than I expected him to,” “Your dad really suffered a lot in his last couple of weeks,” and, “Well, we all have to go some time.” We simply refused to take offense because all these folks meant well. But this experience drove home the counsel of Solomon. He wrote, “He that hath knowledge spareth his words…[because] even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Prov. 17:27-28). Solomon continued, there is “a time to keep silence and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7). Many times, especially when comforting those who are heavy hearted, it is best to simply be quiet.
In the closing days of my father’s illness when the outcome was obvious, a good friend by the name of Wilbur came to visit. Along with his precious wife, this huge man tentatively approached the bed and sat there quietly for a long time. He didn’t offer empty platitudes or engage me in small talk. There was nothing to say, and he was unable to speak. With his gigantic hands holding my hand and my father’s hand, he began to gently shake as tears trickled down his face. For some time we sat there in silence and just grieved together. But in that silence this man and his wife spoke volumes of love and compassion that no amount of words could have conveyed. Do you know what else? It greatly helped to minister comfort to my heavy heart. I will never forget it. I hope you won’t soon forget it either. When you have a friend whose heart is broken over some kind of tragedy, remember to be there and in your effort to help, be quiet.
Sometimes those who are going through great heartache utter emotional outbursts that are neither rational or in keeping with who they are under normal circumstances. Job said to his friends:
“Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it should please God to destroy me” (Job 6:8-9).
When friends are this emotionally distraught, it is not a time to lecture them. Coming down hard on a hurting heart is not only a mistake, it usually leads to the same error that Job’s friends made. They attempted to read his heart, his motives, and ended up accusing him of all kinds of things of which Job was never guilty. This isn’t what Job needed. He needed someone to be sympathetic about his hurt.
In fact, this is what Job explained when he said, “to him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend” (Job 6:14). Job wasn’t looking for counsel or confrontation. Job was looking for comfort in the form of a sympathetic heart. After all, Job had offered the same to others. He asks his friends, “Did not I weep for him that was in trouble?” (Job 30:25). He had been sympathetic toward many who were hurting. It was his testimony that he had delivered the poor, helped the fatherless, encouraged the widow, assisted the blind, escorted the lame, and protected the weak (Job 29:12-17). Now that he was in a time of weakness and sorrow, what he needed from his friends was for them to also be sympathetic toward him. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask or too much for them to give.
Sometimes being sympathetic means being understanding, non-judgmental, and helpful regarding real needs. This was the way Job had appropriately responded to those in need, and it was how he was imploring his friends to act toward him now that he was hurting. But, if we are going to be sympathetic toward those in need, it must also mean something else. Did you notice when Job’s friends first came to comfort him over the loss of his children, possessions and health, that they did NOT put unrealistic expectations on him? They didn’t tell him to “cheer up,” or “look on the bright side,” or even assure him that “God works all things for good.” Instead they simply came to “mourn with him” (Job 2:11), and they allowed him the dignity of an adequate period of time to do so. This may be one of the most compassionate ways to be sympathetic to others.
Several years ago a Christian family lost a 16 year old teenage daughter in a tragic automobile accident. It was, understandably, extremely hard to take as a parent or family member. Because the young lady, like her family, had a testimony of knowing Christ as her Savior, the well meaning pastor of their church insisted on making her funeral a celebration and praise service. As a pallbearer in that service, I can tell you it was awkward, unnatural, and seemed such an injustice to this girl’s loved ones. Yes, this departed saint had “graduated,” as we often say, into eternity. And, yes, it was “far better” for her than this sin-cursed earth. But the Lord made us with the emotions and human attachments that we have. It would have been far better to have allowed this family an appropriate time to grieve without placing such unrealistic expectations on them. So, when you seek to minister to those who hurt, be sympathetic in the kind of demands you place on them, remembering how you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.
When our friends or loved ones are hurting, we need to be there with them, be quiet, and be sympathetic, or we will end up being what Job described, “miserable comforters are ye all” (Job 16:2). But, there is one more important thing we must not fail to do. Job told his friends:
“I could heap up words against you, and shake my head at you. But, I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips would asswage your grief” (Job 16:4-5).
In other words, he was telling them he needed them to be edifying, or to be building him up. When someone we care about is heavy hearted, our carefully chosen words need to be positive in nature. We should comfort them with kind words or memories about their loved ones. We can compliment those we are speaking to with confirmation of their loyalty to, care for, and love of those they are grieving over. Sometimes it is even appropriate to offer a very limited amount of comfort from the Scriptures. We could remind them of the promise to be reunited with loved ones in glory (I Thes. 4:13-18), assure them of our prayers (as done in Phil. 1:7-11), or softly share our testimony, “I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause” (Job 5:8).
One of my closer childhood friends, Ronnie, was abruptly killed in a farm accident at the age of only 20. At the time, I was over a thousand miles away and unable to even attend the funeral. But my heart grieved for the family. With great difficulty, I sat down and wrote Ronnie’s family a letter. In it, I complimented them on such a fine son, extolled his honesty and hard work, expressed my deepest sympathy, and assured them I’d be praying for them. Months later, when I saw Ronnie’s parents, his mother thanked me and told me she had really appreciated the letter. A simple act of kindness in a letter where I sought to be edifying to those who hurt had helped, at least a little.
A room service waiter at a Marriott hotel learned that the sister of a guest had just died. The waiter, named Charles, bought a sympathy card, had hotel staff members sign it and gave it to the distraught guest with a piece of hot apple pie. “Mr. Marriott,” the guest later wrote to the president of Marriott hotels, “I’ll never meet you. And I don’t need to meet you. Because I met Charles, I know what you stand for…I want to assure you that as long as I live, I will stay at your hotels. And I will tell my friends to stay at your hotels.” You see, people who are hurting still need people like you and me to help them with simple acts of kindness, done in a tasteful way. Now you know four guidelines to help you go about helping those who hurt.