helping in adversity: learning from some unlikely candidates

the book of Job isn’t exactly light weekend reading, so you may want to wait to dive into it until oh say, tuesday. or never. there are others like me who (sortakindamaybe) avoid reading this book, particularly in the midst of a (supposed) trial because we don’t want the true meaning of that word to manifest itself in our own life. just kidding (?)

and Job’s three “friends” aren’t usually the go-to model for good post-traumatic care. however, they could have been. they started out SO right….if only their starting point had been their staying point.

all of us will face adversity. it’s inevitable. all of us will also have the privilege of helping someone else in his time of trial. despite their later missteps, we can learn a lot about how to do that well from Job’s friends’ beginning approach found in Job 2:11–13.

Helping Others in Times of Adversity

1. Be Selfless: Job’s friends drop everything, leave their homes, families, responsibilities & go TO him (Job 2:11). an email or text is a way to show you care, especially instantly, but there’s a depth of friendship that is revealed when we go TO someone, when we show up IN PERSON. compassion doesn’t consider comfort or convenience when the call comes. this reminds me of Jesus leaving heaven to be with us (John 6:38).

2. Show Sympathy: Job’s friends collaborate on their purpose-sympathy & comfort (Job 2:11). sympathy generally gets a bad rap, because it’s not as “deep” as empathy. but in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, what someone needs and maybe all he can handle, is just an acknowledgement of his pain. Job’s friends raise their voices, weep, tear their clothes, & throw dust in an unabashed expression of sympathy (Job2:12). this reminds me of Jesus when he weeps over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–42).

3.See (Their) Pain: how tempting it is to avert our gaze from the ugly appearance of pain. we must not be afraid to stare pain in the face, take it in, measure its impact. this seeing compels us to act. Job’s friends are looking for him, to see him even when they’re still a far distance away (Job 2:12). they see that his pain is very great (Job 2:13). SEE it. they don’t imagine it or listen to a description of it-they look right at him and SEE. and it was ugly. when we look eye-to-eye at someone, right at their pain, we connect to them in love, compassion, acceptance. this reminds me of when Jesus looked at the crowds with compassion (Matthew 9:36, Matthew 14:14).

4. Share (Their) Experience: now enters empathy. Job’s friends sit down on the ground with him, not waiting to be greeted or acknowledged (Job 2:13). they sit. in the ashes. close to his bloody, oozing wounds. right next to him. true love breaks through & sits down. it knows no barriers, no social conventions, no antiseptic precautions. it takes its place right next to us, shoulder-to-shoulder. this reminds me of Jesus touching the leper to heal him (Matthew 8:3).

5. Stay the Course: even a gentle breeze causes wincing pain to a fresh wound. a broken bone has to set before it’s ready to bear weight. go the distance with those in pain. the time will come when they can bear some weight, when they can stand up from the ashes, when they can begin to walk. in the meantime in those immediate days, maybe months, maybe longer, give the one who is suffering your TIME. Job’s friends sit with him for 7 days & 7 nights (Job 2:13). a beautiful picture of longsuffering. this reminds me of Jesus’ patience in waiting for us (2 Peter 3:9).

6. Embrace Silence: uncertainty or feeling uncomfortable can lead us to fill the space with words. we find ourselves blathering out insensitive, irrelevant, or worse, hurtful things. you can hear the cry of the human soul best when the “noise” of words is eliminated. the best comfort can be shared silence. Job’s friends spent that week with no one saying a word to him (Job 2:13). silence is an underused & under-appreciated form of communication, especially during times of trial. this reminds me of Jesus when facing his accusers (Matthew 27:14, Mark 15:4–5).

who knew Job’s friends demonstrated such love? it’s easily overlooked because in the many chapters that follow they quickly leave this starting point & slip into themselves-to their own expectations, experiences and expertise. this passage (Job 2:11–13) is such a beautiful, real-life image of love in times of adversity. let’s hold onto that. let’s make the starting point our staying point.