Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grief and Mourning, a couple of guys who really tried...

Today I am going to go all Biblical on you. Now, if you aren't the kind of person who reacts to that with "Woot! High-5!!", I'm going to ask you to bear with me. There are a few people in the Bible who have something to teach us about reaching out to people who are mourning. The funny thing is, these guys usually don't get good press in the average sermon or devotional.

The Bible is full of people who don't come off very heroic on paper, and it is one of my pet peeves that we tend to like to sit in our comfy little lives and shake our heads at them. Let's be honest. Most of us can barely handle a 20 minute wait at our local fast food joint. But we all think we'd be the epitome of sainted patience and trust while stuck hundreds of miles in the desert like the Israelites were, with no visible source of food or water and a multitude of hungry babies and animals depending on us. Really, now.

But I digress. These three guys are Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Good Biblical names. Given their selfless foray into the annals of Biblical loser history, one would think that they would be better known. But alas, they are not. In fact, they are best known by the company that they keep. That company would be a fellow named Job. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are Job's three friends, the ones that spent the majority of the book of Job trying to comfort him. In the beginning of the book, they rock. Later on, not so much.

Check it out - "When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads." Job 2:11-12

So, what was happening with Job? The book of Job is a book about sorrow, and suffering. And it begins with a challenge. God knows Job well. Job is a faithful man, a committed servant of God, and God has blessed him for his faith. One day, God points Job out to Satan, and praises Job for his faithfulness. Satan makes an observation. He wonders if maybe Job is so faithful because God has been so good to him. After all, who wouldn't love a God who had given him so much? God gives Satan permission to start hacking at some of Job's blessings. God is confident that Job's love is real, and that it is for God Himself, and not for the gifts from His hands. Satan does his best, and before the dust clears, Job has lost his livelihood, his wealth, and most horrifically, his many children. Later, God allows Satan to take another stab at the still faithful Job, with one stipulation - he is not allowed to take Job's life. So, Job loses his health, as well.

It is at this point that Job's friends show up.

They have heard about Job's losses, and immediately come together and commit to going to Job to offer what comfort they can. When they see him, even from far off, their hearts are broken for their friend and they begin to weep. Aloud. Because real men weep out loud.

But they don't stop with the tears. They continue on, tearing at their robes in pain, throwing dust on their heads as a public symbol of their mourning hearts. They are broken, because their friend is broken.

So, what comes next? This is the amazing part. Just listen to verse 13 - "Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was."

They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. They stayed. They took Job seriously. The took as much of his pain as they could, onto themselves. They committed to not leaving him alone. And they took their cue from Job. His pain was too big. There were no words. What do you say, when there's nothing to say? These guys said nothing. They wept and wailed, and probably prayed, but they understood. Job's pain was beyond words, and they loved him enough to be comfortable saying nothing.

Of course, when we read on in the book of Job, we see that when they did begin to speak, they weren't terribly helpful. Yeah, like we haven't all been there. But they stayed. They entered into Job's pain and stayed there, even when they didn't need to. It wasn't their pain. They had livelihoods, healthy families and livestock to go back to. Job couldn't get away from the pain that he was in, but his friends could have. They chose not to.

This impressed me. I have to ask myself, how willing am I to enter into the pain of others? Who cares if I have all the right things to say? There is a lot here about how to comfort and support those among us who mourn.

In fact, I think this may be worth two posts.

Until next time....

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