Ever felt like you had no clue how to help someone who was hurting? It doesn’t matter if the pain is physical, emotional or spiritual. Too often we simply freeze, not really knowing how to best help our friends in need.
Should I give them advice? Try to cheer them up? Give them a hug? Offer to help them in some way? Who really knows, right? It’s simply hard to know the appropriate way to respond so as not to hurt or offend them further.
The Bible records a story for us about a man named Job (pronounced “jobe”) who felt some of the deepest emotional pain one could experience. In his time of pain, three of his friends came to be with him. The initial steps they took serve as an example to us all on how to respond when one of our friends is hurting.
Job’s Test from God
In the book of Job, the Bible describes the man Job as righteous before God. It says he was upright and blameless, one who feared God and kept away from evil. He was also a family man and a man of prayer, often praying for his children to stay out of trouble.
And the Bible describes him as very rich, so that he was “the greatest of all the people of the East” (Job 1:3).
On one occasion, God allowed Satan to put Job through a personal trial. This was a test of Job’s faith to see whether he would curse God because of his hardships. So God gave Satan permission to do whatever he wanted to Job, except take his life.
In a series of unthinkable events, Job lost everything. His livestock and possessions were stolen or destroyed, his children were killed in an “accident” and he experienced a painful skin disease. However, the Bible tells us that in all this Job did not sin by cursing God.
But Job was in pain – deep, emotional and physical pain. How could you not be after experiencing all that?
So enter Job’s friends – Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.
What could they possibly do to make Job feel better?
The Positive Example of Job’s Friends
In Job. 2:11-13, the Bible introduces us to Job’s friends. Here is what the Bible says they did:
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.”
In these verses, I see seven things Job’s friends did that help me understand how to help a hurting friend:
1. They heard. Even though they were separated by some distance, they were close enough friends of Job to know something had happened. They were not too wrapped up in their own business to be disconnected from his life. Surely they had connections of some kind that allowed the news to reach them. Whomever was involved, must have known Job’s friends would have wanted to know what happened.
Lesson: In order to help a friend, you have to know what is going on in their life.
2. They came. Job’s friends traveled to meet him. They could have stayed home and prayed for their friend. Instead, they sacrificed for their friend. I’m sure they left their jobs and families behind and spent their own money to travel from their homeland to be with Job.
Lesson: Sacrifice for your friends in time of need.
3. They coordinated with each other. The Bible says they “made an appointment together to come and mourn.” In short, they reached out to one another and coordinated their journey. Maybe one of them started this process to get the others involved. And they all decided the best course of action would be to show up together as one group.
Lesson: Share the news and get others involved if possible. But be sensitive to how many people come together at once to help the hurting person.
4. They showed appropriate emotion. The Bible tells us that when they saw Job they couldn’t recognize him. “They lifted up their voices and wept” for their friend.
Here we see Job’s friends seeing the situation for what it was. They deeply grieved for Job. And they expressed the right emotion in the right way. They didn’t show up by saying, “Hey Job! We are so happy to see you! Let’s go have a party!”
Lesson: Express emotion that is equal to the circumstances.
5. They showed solidarity with Job. Ancient tradition dictated that in order to express grief and sorrow you were to tear your clothes and put dust and ashes on your head. Job had done that when he received the devastating news.
Now his friends do the same. Each of them tore his robe and put dust on their head. They were unified in spirit and appearance with their friend.
Lesson: Find ways to identify and connect with those in pain.
6. They stayed with Job. This was not a short hospital visit where they said, “Hello, how are you doing?” and then left never to return. We read that Job’s friends stayed with him. They sat down on the ground and were with him for at least seven days and nights.
Lesson: Friends in pain may need you for more than one day.
7. They didn’t speak. Perhaps the oddest part of this whole story is that Job’s friends don’t speak…at all…for seven days. Can you imagine that?
Our first inclination is to say something to make the situation better. They recognized Job was not ready to communicate in any way. So they just sat there with him and expressed their sympathy through silence.
Lesson: Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Being there is enough.
It’s All Downhill After That
Job’s friend’s initial reaction to his circumstance was very positive. They did so many things right in coming to comfort their friend. Sadly, when the conversation between Job and his three friends actually began in chapter three, it was all downhill for Job’s friends.
The Bible tells us that Job’s friends completely misread why this happened to him. They thought Job had done something wrong (sinned) and that God was punishing him for that sin. As a result, they kept urging Job to repent even though he had done nothing wrong.
For the next couple dozen chapters of conversation, they offer Job some really bad counsel. Consequently, they end up upsetting their friend with their “wisdom.” And we learn in the final chapters God was not happy with them. Maybe it would have been better if they had just sat there and kept quiet all the long.
Lesson: Don’t offer counsel when you don’t understand what people are going through. Avoid throwing gasoline on the fire and escalating your friend’s painful feelings by saying or doing inappropriate things.
But at least Job’s friends started out OK. We can learn from their positive response early on for the next time we are faced with a friend who is hurting.
Questions for Discussion: What’s your best advice for helping a friend in need? Have you ever said anything you regretted to someone who was hurting?