My ten-year-old is a big stuffed animal guy. He sleeps with one fox, one dog, four bears, two monkeys, one woolly mammoth, and at least five hippopotami. He’s going to start charging me zoo prices to tuck him in at night. These “stuffies” do nothing. They say nothing. They can offer him zero sage words of advice. They are just … there.
Maybe one of your kids has a frayed, tattered blankie he’s slept with for years. How far would you travel to get that blankie back for your kid? (Say, perhaps, a Culver’s restaurant two hundred miles away … same aforementioned child.)
Like a special blankie retrieved for a kid from across the state, good friends will come from miles away to give comfort. Job from the Bible had friends like this. They heard he had fallen on hard times. They got together and planned to go to him and try to offer what help they could.
They set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 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 2:11-13)
If you know the rest of the story, the trouble comes when they open their mouths and try to give him advice, but for now … what a great start. They really cared, and they were being good friends. They probably had their own families to see and their own crops to tend and their own troubles and sorrows in which to drown. But they showed up. They dropped everything and joined Job in his suffering. They couldn’t fix it. But like my son’s stuffed animals and tattered blankie, they were … there.
Do you have a Job in your life? Someone you haven’t heard from in a while, or someone whom you’ve heard has been going through some rough times? Pay attention and move toward them, because they might not reach out to you. They might not think anyone wants to hang out with them. And that might very well be true. It was not fun for Job’s friends to see him suffering; Job was probably not a very fun guy to be around at all. Those situations are uncomfortable and awkward. But while most of the world is moving away from the suffering, we can move toward the suffering to comfort and show the love of Jesus. Jesus loved perfectly. But even Jesus needed his friends. He knew pain and suffering. He knew what it was like to be lonely and facing a tough situation. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed, he took his closest circle of friends—Peter, James, and John—and “he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me’” (Matthew 26:37-38).
If you recall the rest of the story, his friends stayed … but they fell asleep. I love the raw and real people in this sad but slightly comical scene. It shows that we’re not going to do this perfectly. People and relationships are messy. We get tired. We say stupid things. We can’t always fix it. But we can be there. If we are unsure what to say, we don’t have to say anything. I am, admittedly, terrible at this. I might be okay with the written word, but I am not great at empathy, and I’m not good at letting there be silence. I tend to try to be the comic relief, which is only the right answer about 13% of the time. We are all works in progress. But showing up for each other is the first step. We can channel our “inner stuffed animal” nature and just be there. Christian community is so important. God tells us this: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). One is a bit easier than the other. There are times of rejoicing and times of weeping. True Christian friends are there for both. True Christian friends will point to the love of Jesus, who is our true source of comfort, even better than five hippopotami and a woolly mammoth.
Let’s point people to the One who will bring us to be with him forever in heaven, where there is no more weeping, no more pain, no more awkward silences. Just rejoicing. But while we are here, let’s be … there.