I thought I was a wise comforter.
I’m wiser now.
Yet I still need to be continually reminded on what helps and what hurts.
Dogs know how to bring comfort.
They simply come alongside and are silent.
But people, even Christians, often try to fix the unfixable, uttering platitudes, pointing out the silver lining, or preaching little sermonettes based on Romans 8:28. I believe Romans 8:28, but it was all I could do when people quoted it to me not to give them a swift karate kick. Solomon tells us there is a “time to speak and a time to be silent,” and high tide grief is the time to be silent.
Ironically, two women who comforted me the most were those who would not call themselves born-again Christians.
One was my childhood friend Barbara. When I wrote her with our dread news she e-mailed back with three words in gigantic bold black:
NO! NO! NO!
It comforted me.
She did not tell me to trust God, or to think positively…she got into my pain with me.
Likewise, when I called my sister Bonnie, all she could do was sob. She tried to talk, but she simply could not. She called me back a little later, apologetic, but I told her it was just what I needed. I don’t know why it divides the pain to have someone weep with you, but it does.
Shortly after Steve died an article poured out of me which Focus on the Family published entitled “Don’t Send A Sympathy Card.” It isn’t that I’m opposed to all sympathy cards, and there actually are some good ones — but, as I said in the article, “I have an invisible knife sticking out of my heart — people who have suffered see it — but those who don’t press up against me with platitudes, pressing that knife to excruciating depths of pain.” Sympathy cards can drip with platitudes and some, when I opened and skimmed, went directly in the trash. I knew the people meant well — they didn’t mean to push the knife in. I needed to show them the same grace Jesus has shown to me. I needed to remember how many times I had stuck my foot in my mouth!
It meant so much to me when people would take the time to write a note, telling me what they remembered about Steve and loved. I know there are times when you don’t know the person that was lost — and a card seems your only option — but just choose very carefully so you don’t exacerbate their pain. No preaching. Just sympathy. And write a line — even just a “I’m so very sorry.”
(If you want to read that one page article, click here: Don’t Send A Sympathy Card 2 )
I understand wanting to fix someone’s pain — I’ve done it — I get so nervous, I so want to help them, that I begin to stammer and a platitude slips out, slapping a tiny band-aid on a gaping wound. But in trying to fix the unfixable I am making it worse, minimizing their pain, pressing that knife in deeper.
There is a Jewish custom called “Sitting Shiva.” When a friend had a catastrophic loss, family and friends would come and sit for seven (“shiva” means seven) days to comfort him. (Since seven is God’s number for completion — this means — stay alongside for “as long as it takes” to bring comfort.) Some of the principles of “Sitting Shiva” are:
Go and be silent.
Don’t give advice.
Mourn with those who mourn.
But even “sitting shiva” can become a religious practice devoid of heart. Job’s friends sat shiva, but all the time they must have been preparing their condemning speeches.
A. Comment on the above and/or the article from Focus.
B. If you have experienced a catastrophic loss, was there a friend who truly brought you comfort? What did he or she do or say? Why was it helpful?
1. Read Proverbs 25:20
A. What do you think it means to “sing songs to a heavy heart?” Give some examples of this.
B. To what two things does Solomon compare “singing songs to a heavy heart?”What do they have in common?
C. Get out a little baking soda and pour a little vinegar on it and watch what happens. (Don’t worry — it’s a mild reaction.) This combination can also be much more dramatic with heat or in a bottle, and has been used to make rockets and bombs by many amateur scientists. What does this illustrate about how you make a person feel when you sing songs to their heavy heart?
D. Why do we do it, even when it makes it worse?
3. What two commands are given in Romans 12:15? Give examples from your life of someone who did each with you and how it made you feel.
4. The next time someone has a loss, how might you plan to respond? What might you say if you see them? How might you write them?
5. Read Job 2:11-13 and see how Job’s friends practiced the custom of “sitting shiva.” What did they do? Find everything you can.
It is hard to know their hearts. Verse 13 says they did see his suffering was very great. They may have empathized, but we also know, from the rest of the book, that they were judging him. They assumed suffering is a result of sin. Their sympathy did release Job and allow him to lament honesty. However, I do think this shows how easy it is to go through the motions, to visit, to send a card — yet not get into their pain and really help them. We need to walk in line with the gospel, to be the heart and hands of Jesus to those who are suffering.
Contrast Job’s response in Job 1:21 with his response in Job 3. Job neither stuffs his feelings nor vents them, but prays them. Find phrases in this honest lament in Job 3 that stand out to you. Why?
6. How does Eliphaz now pounce on Job in Job 4. I want you to note two portions particularly.
A. Describe the words of Eliphaz in Job 4:7-9 and describe the assumption behind it.
B. Elihu had a dream that he assumes was a word from the Lord. Describe it in Job 4:12-16. Whom do you think was the source of this dream and why?
Mike Mason writes, in The Gospel According to Job:
Eliphaz tells of being visited in the night by a spirit that filled him with terror…One even gets the feeling that, as frightening as this experience was, Eliphaz would not have missed it for anything….He leaves no doubt that despite his terror he considered the visitation a good thing, and one that brought him a genuine spiritual insight, “a word from the Lord. (4:12) How different is Eliphaz’s mystical fear from the sort of fear expressed by Job back in 3:25 when he said, “What I feared has come upon me, what I dreaded has happened to me.” Job’s dread, by contrast, was a feeling that he wanted nothing to do with, for in it he intuitively sensed the grip of something evil. Far from taking any secret delight in such a thing, Job recoiled from it in horror, and in his deepest instincts…he sensed the real and personal presence of the great enemy of his soul… How tragic it is that so many religious people accustom themselves to hearing and obeying the voice of fear rather than the voice of peace. In so doing they unwittingly pay heed to the Devil, even while fooling themselves that they are trying to follow Christ.
C. Mason said we too often obey the voice of fear rather than the voice of peace. Ponder this for your own life. What might it mean?
7. How did Eliphaz and his friends press the knife in Job’s heart to excruciating depths of pain?
8. What does God tell Eliphaz and his friends to do in Job 42:7-9?
Friends may fail you. Yet there is One who understands, for His friends failed Him in His greatest hour of need. I remember the summer after Steve’s death my daughter Sally called me — she was getting her Masters in Counseling at Wheaton — and said, “My professor was talking today about how Jesus can “sit shiva” with us when our friends fail. That comforted me so.
9. Have you ever sensed Jesus “sitting shiva” with you? If so, share something.
Eliphaz and his friends were critical of Job’s honest lament. They also assumed that if trouble came into a life, that it was because the person was in sin. Honestly, we often believe this for ourselves. We know we fail, and even if we are walking daily in repentance, we let the accuser of the brethren get to us. This is why I truly want you to listen to this free Keller sermon and answer questions that go with it. It will look like you have to pay for this sermon, but when you click, you will see there is no cost. However, before you listen, please prepare yourself by doing this study:
10. Read Psalm 39:13
A. Most laments end with the psalmist remembering God’s character and vowing to trust Him. How is this different?
B. What is your reaction to this?
11. Read Psalm 126 and type out verses 5 and 6.
LISTEN TO TIM KELLER ON “PRAYING YOUR TEARS.” CLICK HERE:
12. EXPECT TEARS
A. Why should we expect tears?
B. What happens if we assume that sorrow is always a result of sin?
C. Why does Keller think Christians will actually weep more than non-Christians?
13. INVEST TEARS
A. God will give you grace for your laments, your tears. How does Kidner’s comment on the close of Psalm 39 demonstrate this? (Worth its weight in gold.)
B. How can we know God has not abandoned us, even when we have failed?
C. Keller comments on Psalm 126:5-6 and says look ahead to glory. This indeed, is what sustained Job. He knew His Redeemer would stand upon the earth and restore everything. What have you lost that will be restored to you?
14. PRAY YOUR TEARS
A. What is the tone of the last 5 psalms in the psalter?
B. Keller says if you keep in communication, keep talking, all of your prayers will eventually (though it may take a lifetime) turn to praise. Have you experienced any of this in learning to lament?
15. What do you want to remember from this message and why?
LISTEN TO MIDDAY CONNECTION: CLICK HERE (UPDATED LINK)
16. Describe God’s three appearances to Job.
17. What stood out to you from the program and why?
18. What is your take-a-way for the week?