Miriam Boone is a School of Biblical Counseling online alumna. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and works at both her local church and a nonprofit that serves at-risk families in her community.
“Every day I am thankful for the truths I have learned from CCEF and for the way my training at the School of Biblical Counseling encouraged and equipped me to move towards the hurting. Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside people in my neighborhood, home, and church who have faced deep suffering. I wrote this blog about those friendships.” – Miriam Boone
Being Friends with Job
In his memoir Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff wrestles with language to describe life after his son’s death. “Perhaps what’s over,” he writes, “is happiness as the fundamental tone of my existence. Now sorrow is that. Sorrow is no longer the islands, but the sea.”
What do we do when one of our friends could write those words? How can we respond when we watch God take and take and take from the people we love the most, when their loss runs as deep as Job’s, when their pain no longer fits in a category smaller then their world?
We can begin here. Be slow to speak. When Job’s world disintegrates in a day’s time, his friends do two things right: they show up and they spend the first week silent (Job 2:13). James urges all of us to be quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19). If there is ever a time to hold your tongue, it’s when the diagnosis comes, when the loved one first passes, when the rug is pulled out from underneath your friend’s life.
Being slow to speak makes us quick to hear. And we need to hear—because, while pain is universal, it is also unique. We may remember the way tears burned our cheeks, we may find the sleeplessness familiar or recognize an inability to get out of bed at all, but we cannot lay our experiences on top of our friends’ as a substitute for listening. If we do speak, we ought to say things like this. How are you feeling right now? Or, help me understand what this is like for you.
When we are slow to speak, we create space for lament. Loss of this scale will take time to get to know. Let your friend hold her grief. Remember that words and pain take a long time to find each other.
In his novel The Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin, Jr. describes his protagonist Chauntecleer in the midst of his own Job-like experience. On the day that all three of his sons drown, Chauntecleer trembles and roars and sobs—and then a visitor comes to him. She spends the night at his side without speaking a word, but “her eyes pooled as she looked at him. The tears rose and spilled over.” Wangerin calls what happens next a miracle:
“Nothing changed: The clouds would not be removed, nor his sons returned, nor his knowledge plenished.
But there was this. His grief had become her grief, his sorrow her own.
And though he grieved not one bit less for that, yet his heart made room for her, for her will and wisdom, and he bore the sorrow better.”
If you stay in the silence with your friend, you may get to know the loss well enough to lament alongside him. There is no greater gift.
As you do the work of listening and lamenting, you will have the opportunity to share their burdens. Sorrow weighs down the soul, grief exhausts the body, but friendship means, if this is burden is crushing—it will crush us both. When your friend suggests she is burdening you with her trouble, remind her she is not. God has given you this trial too- by way of your friend. You will bear it better together.
Carrying the burden well may take some imagination. If someone wanted to say, You’re on my heart to me, I’d take an iced latte, a clean house, or a day by the lake. But what would communicate to your friend? Take what you know of him and what you know about his trial; pair it with a godly imagination and make his load lighter. Listening well helps. What’s the heaviest on him today? Loneliness? Send a text. A new set of tasks? Accomplish one for him. Find ways to say. I am with you in this. You are not alone. Your physical presence and tangible acts of service make the unseen visible. It’s easier to hang on to the truth that God will never leave you or forsake you when your friends are hanging out on your couch.
Remember that laughter lightens the load when nothing else can. Right now it may feel like she will never be happy again. Do not underestimate the ministry of baby animal pictures. Use gifs and emoticons, youtube videos and memes, for this kingdom work of carrying her burden. Your friend needs reminded that this loss will not always hurt the way it does now. Laughter can momentarily pierce the wall of sorrow and suggest that this season of grief may actually be a season. Be generous with your humor but ready to set it down and walk back into tears when she needs you to.
Point out God’s work. As you listen and lament and laugh, you will begin to see that, even here, even now, God is on the move. You may see it before your friend does. Collect these evidences of grace for him, so when he is ready, you can pass them back into his hands.
The Scriptures promise that if your friend is the Lord’s, she will one day look back on her loss with joy (1 Peter 1:6-7, 2 Corinthians 4:17, James 1:12). Help her begin the process of counting it joy now by cultivating your own joy in God. Let her loss lead you to loosen your hold on God’s gifts and tighten your grip on God Himself. You can feed your friend’s faith by modeling satisfaction in Jesus. If your joy is in your healthy body, your intact family, or your #blessed set of circumstances, then your calls to hope in God may feel hollow. Take your friend’s trouble as a reminder from the Lord to give thanks for His gifts but to anchor your hope only in Jesus and all He is and has promised to be for you beyond the grave.
Keep your eyes open for the ways God is sustaining your friend, for the ways God is stewarding his anguish, for the moments when the snow melts a little and you can remember together that the White Witch’s rule will not last forever.
One last word. If you are Job right now and your friends are failing you, take comfort in this. Jesus has called you His friend. When no one is with you, the Lord Himself will stand by you and strengthen you (2 Timothy 4:16-17). You will never be forgotten by Him.
And if you have a Job in your life, love them well. You are being like Jesus.