Presence and Silence in a Friend’s Dark Hour

Job and FriendsThen [Job’s three friends] 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. Job 2:13 (NIV)

Along life’s journey we all have times of tragedy and of suffering. I have observed and experienced that our western culture, by and large, does not handle these stretches of life’s journey well. In a culture that celebrates temporal success and material excess, suffering of any kind tends to be approached with ignorance (“I have no idea what to do or say”), with discomfort (“I don’t want to be around him/her. It will just depress me”), and even with outright suspicion and derision (“They must have done something wrong. I don’t want to be associated with him/her.”).

For several years, Wendy and I aggressively attempted to bring a child into this world together. I have not shared very openly about it. Some day I know I will write more about my experiences. Not yet. Though Wendy and I have pressed on in our journey together, at times the soul wounds feel acutely fresh.

I will share, however, that this period of our lives was a very lonely time. My heart and soul were taken to places on life’s road that I did not desire to go. Even among our family and our closest friends I observed the struggle to know how to approach the subject, what to say, or how to help. Because of ignorance, discomfort, or suspicion there were many who simply avoided the subject around which our lives were painfully centered.

In today’s chapter, I was struck by our initial introduction to Job’s three friends. We will learn more about them in the days ahead, but for the moment I found myself impressed by two things.

First, Job’s friends showed the courage to put aside whatever discomfort, confusion, or suspicion they may have felt to consciously step into Job’s presence. They were not deterred by Job’s suffering but seem to be compelled by their friendship to be present with Job in the midst of it. That simple act of being present with someone in their pain is the evidence of love.

Second, I observed that for seven days Job’s friends said nothing. Wise King Solomon tells us that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. It sometimes takes Solomon’s wisdom to discern between the two. I believe that Job’s friends initially choose the path of wisdom in their silence. There is nothing to say at this point that will be of comfort to Job.

I am reminded this morning of conversations I’ve had with grieving family members after the funeral of a loved one. People have often spoken to me of the comfort and encouragement they took by an individual’s presence at the funeral, despite the fact that they did not talk or interact with that individual. It was that individual’s choice to be present in their dark hour of grief which was meaningful. No words had to be spoken.

Today, I am taking stock of family and friends who have been faithfully present along the dark stretches of my journey. I am also confessing my own fault at letting discomfort, confusion, and suspicion deter me from being present with others whom I love in their own dark hours. I want to be a better, more courageous and more loving friend to others as I understand what it means to do so in difficult times.

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