May 21 is an anniversary date for me. Joshua died on that day in 2001.
Many friends helped. Mark and Margo Black were there, Rubel and Myra Shelly were there, Mike Cope was there a few days before as well as John York, and we were surrounded by many others (including my Woodmont Hills Bible class). Gary Dodd painted a portrait of Joshua lying on his death bed; it still hangs in my home office. I am looking at it even as I type. My colleagues at Lipscomb University helped and many friends from Memphis (including Gary Ealy and Allen Black). There are too many to mention.
Many friends helped. They helped by their presence and actions. I don’t remember many words, but I do remember that they were there and what they did.
Words that express love and sympathy are welcome, but their presence spoke more than their words. I am grateful for their friendship.
But friends don’t always help, and this is especially true when it comes to their words. Some words can sting and stir the pain rather than relieve it. Fortunately, that was rarely the case in my situation, though it is often the case for others.
For me, the memory of my friends on May 21 and the days following is comforting. They helped. They were present. But for others that memory is not as pleasant.
What do we do with unpleasant memories? What do we do with the anger we might feel towards those who mistreated–whether intentionally or unintentionally [which is usually the case]–us?
Those who know me also know that the Book of Job has significantly shaped my journey through grief ever since Sheila died in 1980. And that book speaks to the above question in a powerful way.
Job’s friends came to comfort him (Job 2:11), and they sat in silence with him for seven days. But they broke their silence when Job lamented that he had ever been born (Job 3). The dialogue between Job and his friends runs from Job 4 to Job 27.
- The friends advise Job to repent (Job 4-14).
- The friends insist that Job shut up (Job 15-21).
- The friends give up any hope for Job’s faith (Job 22-27).
With friends like these, who needs enemies!
The depth of their “help” and “comfort”–Job calls them “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2)–reaches unimaginable proportions. For example, Bildad opines that Job’s children died because they had sinned (Job 8:4). They accuse of Job of self-righteousness, arrogance, and hidden sin (see Job 22).
What do you do with friends like these? What did Job do?
Job forgave them. Job prayed for them (Job 42:7-9).
Suffering creates a crisis for not only the sufferer but for his or her friends. Everyone struggles with the reality, and no one really wants to face it.
We seek explanations or rationales. We shield ourselves from as much pain as possible. We defend God or accuse God. Our emotions range from shock to anger to indifference. This is true for friends as well as the sufferer. In fact, good friends suffer with the sufferer. And like the sufferer, the friends don’t know how to handle or process the grief and loss.
Sufferers sometimes resent the way the friends responded–they were not present or they said the wrong thing. And this resentment adds to the pain.
Job prayed for his friends. Job forgave them, even after the harsh things they said to him.
Resentment increases suffering–it is a poison pill we take in the hope that the other person will die. It actually kills. Forgiveness is the balm that heals resentment.
Job forgave his friends, and we sufferers can forgive those who increased our pain rather than relieving it.
Forgiveness is a comfort God works in our hearts and enables us to move forward in life.
On this day, the anniversary of my son’s death, I remember the comfort my friends provided by their presence and actions.
Thank you, friends.