For the last few days, I have been reading through the book of Job. It is not a very uplifting read until you get to the very end. The book provides interesting insights into life, friendship, and people’s misconstrued ideas about God. Job was tested in what seemed to be a merciless test. He wondered if God had abandoned him.
In chapter 21, Job is responding to one of his “friends” who gave him some harsh counsel, counsel that missed the heart of God. Job responds in verse 34, “How can your empty clichés comfort me?”
Some of the counsel we give people can be nothing more than offering an impatient cliché. We utter these cliché-ridden comments because we have not spent the time required to hear a word from the Lord. We too easily parrot something someone else said, or we speak out of our human understanding, and the recipients of our words begin to wonder who remains in their life that can genuinely be called a friend.
One hallmark of true friendship is allowing people to express their pain without feeling the need to offer comments. There are times when true friendship is most profoundly expressed by sitting in silence with someone in their place of pain and listening – listening to them without feeling the need to correct or counsel them.
When the three friends of Job first heard of his suffering, the text says, “Then they 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). At the end of those seven days, I am sure someone felt a need to speak. It was at that point Job’s friends steered off course and began to attach blame and condemnation to their comments. Like it was for Job’s friends, our undisciplined need to always say something is what gives birth to cliché and deepens a friend’s sorrow.
We are living in a time when many individuals and the broader culture are suffering a great deal. Our presence, like the presence of God, is many times the only input someone needs to make it through another day. One of the most profound prophetic acts is to sit in silent compassion with those who suffer and, by our presence, we let them know they are seen and loved.