Have you ever wondered what to say to a person who has experienced a horrible tragedy? A stinging disappointment? A grievous loss? As believers, we often look to Scripture to find the perfect words of encouragement and strength to offer our loved ones during their times of trial. We look to God’s Word to find promises of comfort that will bring peace to their emotionally charged situations. We look for Biblical wisdom that will bring words of hope to those moments that seem utterly hopeless. And we’re correct in looking to the Bible for guidance in these things because it indeed offers instruction into dealing with others’ pain.
But the instruction it offers is not always what we expect.
When we look to Scripture to equip us in helping others during these times, the example that most clearly and practically demonstrates what we are to do is found in the Book of Job. There we see that the best approach to bringing comfort is not found in words, but in silence. It is not found in wisdom, but in compassion. It is not found in an attempt to take away suffering, but in an intentional act of supporting others in their suffering.
Job 2:11-13 (NLT) says, “11 When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. 12… Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.”
In this passage, Job’s friends modeled for us the perfect example of how to help others during their times of struggle: we are to go to them, we are to mourn with them, and we are to be silent! When one reads the rest of this story, in fact, it becomes apparent that all their efforts to help ultimately became unraveled when they stopped being silent and started opening their mouths! Though well-intentioned, attempting to offer words of comfort during someone’s time of grief is not the best means of offering support to them. As verse 13 indicates, there are certain times when people are simply not prepared to receive words.
And the truth of the matter is that six months down the road, words that are spoken will not be remembered anyway. Unless, that is, they are misspoken or ill-timed words that add to one’s pain. Then they will be remembered forever. So why take that chance?
The best gift we can offer to those who are hurting is not our words, but our presence. Though words will not always be remembered, our presence will be. When we practice this “ministry of presence” we incarnate Christ through our actions and make His love known to others at a time when they need it most. This is God’s prescription for helping others in their times of grief.