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
Many of us today prefer not to get involved. "Let government meet this need," we say, or we think, "I'm not qualified to handle this." We quickly excuse ourselves from even attempting to reach out to someone who is in pain. There are professionals to handle things like that and hurting people make us uncomfortable.
The Greek word which is usually translated "compassion" literally means "to suffer with" or "to sympathize with" someone. All the grief counselors, PhDs and the government programs in the world aren’t a substitute for someone who cares--who gives the gift of his or her personal presence. That, is what compassion is about. It does not necessarily require money, though it is impossible to really have compassion on someone who is in need without trying to help their need. But it does require personal involvement.
Of course, it can be frustrating wanting to respond to the pain you see in the life of someone you care about and simply not knowing what to say or to do. But, at times, simply being there, giving the gift of your silent presence, letting someone know that you care, that you are available and will listen, goes a long way toward helping the healing process.
Joseph Parker was a well-known British pastor who watched life gradually drain from his wife's body as cancer took its deadly toll. It was a very painful and wearing experience, and as Parker faced it, he vacillated between withdrawal and anger towards God. "Where was this loving and merciful God" thought Parker. Then, finally the battle was over and they buried her. When the friends went home, and Parker's house and his life were empty, he would often sit an entire evening brooding in despondence.
Describing what he later went through, Parker told of a friend who came to his home and sat the entire evening with him, staying up past midnight, not saying a single word. The fact that he was there brought tremendous comfort and relief.
Do you remember the story of Job in the Bible? When Job walked through a deep, dark valley, his friends came to encourage and help him. One sat there for seven days before he said a word.
Just being there can, at times, be a great help. "I know exactly what you are feeling," people sometimes say, not knowing what else to say. Yet you can't really know. Even if you have gone through a similar experience, you don't know the intensity of the emotions or feel the severity of the emptiness which plagues someone.
We’ve all heard the stories of what not to do. Like the grieving widow whose husband had just passed away, when her friend, not thinking what she was saying, tried to comfort her, saying, "Oh, someone else will come along, and you'll get married again!" Those words stung. She didn't want anyone else. She only wanted someone to hear her emotions and feelings.
Perhaps you’re tempted, like a lot of us, to avoid people who are in pain because you simply don't know what to say. But being abandoned by friends and family who have been close only multiplies the loneliness and pain.
Saying, "I’m so sorry and I want you to know how much your friendship means to me and I'm praying for you" can bring needed encouragement and help. A reassuring passage of scripture which has helped you in the past, might be comforting. Understanding that pain often causes what feels like a cloud of momentarily separation from God’s loving presence, may help you to hold on to a friend and not let him or her slip, as you walk through that valley together.
The gift of presence can make all the difference.
Resource reading: Job 2:11-13