Ralph and Darlene Burson was an elderly couple who lived next door to the Jacksons–Bill, Sherry, and four-year-old Jason.
A few days after Darlene died, little Jason wanted to go next door to see his friend Mr. Ralph, who was sitting on the back porch. His mother agreed.
When Jason walked up Ralph began to gently shed some tears. Upon seeing this Jason climbed up into his lap.
When he returned home Sherry asked, “Jason, what did you say to Mr. Burson?”
“Nothing,” Jason replied. “I just helped him cry.”
This story reminds me of Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. For all that they said and did wrong as they one by one added insult to Job’s physical, mental, and emotional suffering by their accusations, there’s one thing they did right.
The Bible says when they heard about Job’s adversity they came together “To mourn with him and comfort him.” At a distance, they didn’t even recognize Job. Then “they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. 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” (Job 2:11-13).
Often when we have a friend who’s hurting, we simply freeze. We don’t know what to say. Or do. Offer advice? Try to cheer them up? Seek to solve the problem? Read scripture?
The initial response of Job’s friends is worth emulating when a brother, friend, or family member is hurting.
When they heard about Job’s suffering, they cared enough to come. They were not too busy to show concern. Their presence simply said to Job, “we care.”
They responded emotionally. The Bible says we ought to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Job’s suffering touched them. And they responded appropriately.
As one writer put it, “they showed solidarity with Job.” The custom in Bible times to express deep sorrow was to tear your clothes and put ashes on your head. Job had already done that. So each of them did the same thing as a visible demonstration of their feelings.
They stayed with Job. Seven days. Sometimes hurting friends need more than just a brief visit. They need someone to sit with them. To just be there.
They didn’t speak. While some commentators believe their silence may have been motivated by their belief in Job’s sins, Dave Furman suggests it was the “silent presence of encouragement.” He added, “There is a kind of ministry that is without words.” A ministry of silence.
“Often we think that to truly minister to someone, we must swoop in and fix the issue,” observed blogger Zach Barnhart. “But what if, instead of offering our lessons, our insights, our theology, and our reasonings, we simply offered our ears? This is what Job’s friends set out to do.”
Unfortunately, the story of Job’s friends goes downhill after the period of silence. They completely misunderstood and misread what happened to Job. They offered insight and counsel that was all wrong.
It’s a good lesson for us when trying to help the hurting. Don’t give advice when you don’t understand the situation. There may be circumstances you’re not privy to. “Don’t try to explain everything,” advised Warren Wiersbe. “Explanations never heal a broken heart.”
The wise counsel of Mahatma Gandhi is good advice for all of us. “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman