by A.C. Williams
When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. Job 2:12-13 NLT
Why is it therapeutic to fix broken things? What is it that makes us feels better after we piece together fragments of something that used to be whole? I think part of it is being made in God’s image. He is the Master Fixer, after all.
So what happens when we encounter something that can’t be fixed? Where no act—physical, mental, or spiritual—can restore what has been lost? What do we do then?
I think often of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. We vilify them as examples of what not to do when someone you love is hurting, and rightly so. Job’s friends tried to fix the situation. They needed to understand, which meant they had to assign blame. And, frankly, I’m not sure assigning blame ever helps.
What we tend to forget, however, is that when they first arrived, they did it right (Job 2:12-13). They mourned with him. They grieved for his loss right alongside him, and they were silent. Because they could tell that his grief was too great for words, so they sat with him in his sorrow without speaking.
But after a week, they couldn’t be silent anymore.
Why do we think that a grief too great for words must endure only a short time? We think once the initial grieving period is done, it’s time to get down to business and figure out what went wrong. Whose fault is it? How do we fix it?
Friends, we don’t get to decide when someone else is done grieving. It’s not our responsibility to tell someone it’s time to move on.
Job’s friends eventually got tired of sitting with his sorrow and tried to fix his life for him. That’s where they went wrong (Job 42:7-9).
Sitting with sorrow isn’t fun. It’s not pleasant. And the longer it lasts, the more uncomfortable it gets. It’s frustrating. Heartbreaking. Exhausting in every sense of the word. We want to point fingers. We want to cheer people up. We want to do something.
And maybe there is something we can do, but it’s important to remember that sitting with sorrow isn’t about making ourselves feel better. Sitting with sorrow is the sacrifice we bring to support someone we love on their terms. Not ours.
Part of being in Jesus’ big family is bearing the burdens of our brothers and sisters (Galatians 6:2). We offer a shoulder to cry on, a hand to steady them when their world is upside down, or a prayer when they are so broken they can’t pray for themselves.
I’m not saying people don’t need to eat or that they don’t need clean clothes or a clean house. There’s absolutely a need for practical support in the face of overwhelming grief. But in our compassionate drive to bless others, don’t forget that grief is a process that looks different for everyone.
Be willing to help, yes, but be patient. Then be available to help on their terms when they ask. If we’re with them in their moments of deepest grief, understand that we are in a place of privilege and trust. When they’re ready, they’ll tell us what they need.
We can’t fix grief. We can’t fix mourning and sorrow and trauma. Those are things that will never be fixed in this world, but they can be redeemed. It’s just not us who can do it.
This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).
About the author: A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at www.amycwilliams.com.
Join the conversation: How have you helped people who are grieving?