Sunday, September 28, 2014

Comfort Without Words

The quote below is an excerpt from a article by Trillia Newbell at the Gospel Coalition entitled "Mourning Without Words." The specific context of the piece is comforting someone mourning the death of a loved one. However, the advice about keeping silent and wordless comfort, and the lesson form the Book of Job, applies to  other contexts of emotional trauma. When a loved one is suffering from loss, betrayal, abuse, PTSD, or other forms of severe emotional trauma, sometimes the best way to help is to be silent and just hold them and weep with them.
...There’s a temptation to treat our mourning friends like leaky faucets that need to be fixed. And the expert we call on is ourselves. We try recalling all the memorized Scriptures in our heads, or we run to the concordance and look up search terms: “mourning,” “sorrow,” “pain,” “Job.” Then we spill this wisdom onto our friend, hoping to fix the leak. The effort is well meaning, and there's certainly a time and place for it. But too often we search for the perfect knowledge that will bring comfort and joy when all we really need to say is nothing at all.
When your friend is weeping it’s hard to say, "I don't know, I don't understand." We want to know. We want to bring comfort, but in our attempt to "fix it" we can forget that there's a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a faucet to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when you're anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace your weakness and lack of knowledge.
To be clear, waiting doesn’t mean never sharing perceived wisdom. Waiting might actually involve acknowledging you do understand. You understand your friend's sorrow enough to be willing to bridle your tongue, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.
Silence Is a Virtue
In a world where our minds are constantly invaded by noise, it’s no wonder the discipline of silence can feel so difficult. Job’s friends should have kept silent and simply wept with him instead of rattling off unhelpful advice. Have you ever spent any time in the book of Job and cheered on Job’s friends? I know I have. I’ve struggled to understand why their advice is wrong. At face value most of it sounds pretty wise. But they weren't comforting Job; they were accusing him. In Job 16he lays out exactly why these brothers were not helpful, calling them “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2). One even asked a rhetorical question in an attempt to discount Job’s wisdom (Job 15:2).
But did Job’s friends set out to be miserable comforters? Absolutely not. Each had a genuine desire “to show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11). So what went wrong?
They spoke.

They spoke without waiting and without thinking. And we often do the same. The next time a friend needs comfort and you have no idea what to say, perhaps you shouldn't say anything. It may be an opportunity to cry together. Maybe you could, with a compassion-filled heart, pray together. But wait on the advice and weigh your words.
Our Lord is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He comforts us so we may comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3–5). We must trust him, for he will bring comfort to our hurting friend.