I think that this is an aspect of Christian community that I have learned the most about recently. Friends being there for suffering friends. I am not a girl who likes being helped. I would rather deal with any amount of pain than feel like I am putting someone out. Recently, I have been unable to do everything for myself. I was diagnosed with Craniocervical Instability almost a year and a half ago, but in the last month my symptoms have spiraled to where it is difficult to walk across the hallway or lift a small stack of books. I have been in tremendous pain. Even as I write this my head is throbbing and my fingers feel too heavy to type.
As I wait for a fusion surgery in June, I have been learning to rely on friends to bring me food, walk me to class, help me clean my dorm room, and pack for the summer. However, I have been incredibly blessed with willing Christian friends who have all come alongside me and lifted me up in prayer. They have encouraged me and reminded me of God’s promises. But the most comforting way they have been there for me has been in their listening.
In the book of Job, we see both a compelling and repelling example of friends comforting a suffering friend.
Job 2:12-13 says, “And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (ESV)
Imagine if your closest friend lost their home, family, wealth, health, and livelihood all in a short span, or even at all. I wonder nowadays if we would go and just sit for an entire week and speak not even a single word. If we would step away from our jobs and the things we find important to just simply be there for our friend.
They realized that he was hurting so badly that nothing they could say in that moment would relieve his suffering or make anything better. Sometimes we just need to be quiet. Sometimes the wound is so deep it goes passed flesh and blood and cuts into the soul where only silence heals. And sometimes wounds don’t need to be stitched or mended, but simply need time to heal.
John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (ESV)
Jesus explains to His disciples that the greatest love is the laying down of one’s own life – their desires, time, energy, and dreams – for the life of another. We are to build one another up. We are to rejoice with the rejoicing, mourn with the mourning (Rom. 12:15).
What better way to express our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ than to sit and be silent with them. Letting them weep against our shoulders. Letting them shout, and just allowing their laments. And I will tell you…it is so true. The greatest expressions of love I have experienced are when my dear friends have sat with me and just let me cry and let me question and then in proper timing, pointed me back to the comfort of God’s love. Those moments of silence are bittersweet, beautifully healing, and encouraging. They show you that someone cares about the depths of your heart, more than simply wanting to fix your problems. Some problems can’t be fixed with human action. And some words are more hurtful than helpful.
As Job’s friends later showed, our words of “comfort” can be very destructive. They told him that he must have sinned for God to allow this kind of suffering. And their comfort was that if he just repented, everything would be okay again. But unfortunately, all this did was discourage Job. He had done nothing wrong to incite wrath and punishment, as his friends determined he must have. But rather he suffered in order that God would be glorified through his obedience in the middle of hurt.
With all of this…the suffering, the pain, the mourning…in the middle of it all we have been made in the image of a God who desires communion. And we are made to reflect that image. We are meant to be in community.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward got their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (ESV)
We are meant to live in community with one another. We are designed for fellowship, not to be alone. And even in the deepest depths of our suffering, when all we need is the silent love of our friends, we are designed to be there for each other in the middle of it. Sometimes weeping. Sometimes offering encouragement. Sometimes just sitting and not speaking is what the suffering need.
I have experienced this on a very deep and personal level this year. It is incredible to see the love and comfort of Christ through people who love according to His expressions of love. It has meant the world to me and given me comfort in the middle of it all. Our suffering friends don’t need words, and they don’t need to feel ignored. They need the gift of presence, even if it is total silence. Even if it is for seven days without a word.