Reading: Job 2:11-13
Whenever people face loss, one of the biggest challenges is that we don’t know what to say. It does not matter how many answers we know, whatever answer we offer seems to ring hollow. Whatever answers we have to give makes us seem miserable comforters.
Job’s friends all eventually offer their answers to the question of why people suffer. After they give their answers, which are nothing new, Job calls them miserable comforters. Unfortunately, even the best answers offer no comfort. Grief is something that lacks answers.
I hope when I next sit with somebody who grieves, I can remember the example of Job’s friends who kept their mouths shut for a week. I remember in Seminary, we talked about the right answers: we were told the right answer is to not offer any answers. The person hurts too much to hear them. We even hear people asking ‘why’, but the truth is, they need to struggle with why themselves. It is the grieving person who needs to learn their new normal, and it is not our place to define what that normal should be.
I stopped here because for a week Job’s friends are truly wonderful comforters. They offer the best thing that they can give the grieving person, compassion. Job sits in the dust, and they sit with him. Job is suffering, but he is not alone.
Grief is complex. When we lose something that is part of everyday life, something that is part of who we consider ourselves we not only have to come to terms with that loss but we have to learn how to live in a new but reduced normal. We grieve death, but we also grieve other things such as a change of jobs or relationships. If I were to lose one hand I would grieve it. It would be very difficult for me to learn my new normal. I cannot imagine typing this without both hands.
Job had much to grieve. He lost his property, he lost his workforce, and he lost his children. This is a very wealthy man, who no longer knows if he will find a way to provide food to himself next week. Add to this, he is physically hurting. What does a man do when he is in pain?
One of my favorite books on grief does not chart the grieving process, or give answers. When C.S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer, he wrote A grief observed, where he kept a diary of his struggles as he faced this loss. What we saw was that one of the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century struggled to make sense of what he believed. He struggled with daily life, and he struggled with loneliness as his friends did not always want to mourn with him. (Shame on you J.R.R. Tolkien)
While Lewis is not the universal model of grief, just one person who lost a loved one, what we see is the questions asked by a person who already wrote the trite answers in his book, The problem with pain. When Lewis lost his wife, he had to struggle with the answers that his younger self once gave. Even our own answers end up falling short when the pain is immediate.
Compassion is suffering with somebody. Where there is grief there is suffering. We cannot say anything to make the hurt go away, the hurt just is. The only thing we can do is what Job’s friends did; we can sit in the dust, listen, and make sure that the one who suffers does not suffer alone.