There are so many things about her life that are not the story she would’ve written. Her body aches to bear a child that may never come. Her soul longs for a home that she’s never seen. Her mind runs to a past filled with pain and a fear to hope for anything more than the tortuous road she’s walked. When she opens her eyes to face the day, it is a weary battle over whether to do what she “should” or stay sheltered in thick blankets until noon, turning her back on all the “must do’s” of the day.
My friend is walking the narrow edge along the sheer cliffs of despair.
From my perspective, I can see that God is faithfully working, silently, with unseen hands leading her through the story He’s written for her. It’s a journey that feels isolated and purposeless, and I want to tell her to run. Not to run from the pain, or run back to bed, but to run toward the end of the story—which is really just the beginning of the story.
Friend, run to the cross and the story He has for you there!
But, before I tell her to run, I need to listen with compassion, my heart needs to lean into her pain. Maybe not even speak for some time, but what she may need most is for me to first weep with her. And silently intercede for her.
Weeping Comes Before Speaking
As I’ve been studying the book of Job, one thing that stands out to me is how heartless some forms of listening can be. Job’s friends sat for 7 days without saying a word . . . but I’m not sure they really opened their hearts to hear his cries or climb into his pain. I’ve been guilty of that. I can listen in a hurry, or listen without patience, or listen while preparing an answer, ready to offer a solution to the problem. I can listen while barely holding my tongue at bay.
Listening with compassion is listening with the purpose of hearing the heart, not with the intent of speaking my mind.
Job was walking the narrow edge along the sheer cliffs of despair. He’d lost his children, lost all he’d accrued financially, lost his health, and even the support of his wife. When at his most vulnerable point, stripped of all, and suffering with boils, Job’s wife dishes out her version of compassion: “Curse God and die.” That’s her answer to his miserable state.
Job’s wife kicks her man while he’s down.
But Job doesn’t curse God. Instead, he gives us the question that we need to remind ourselves of regularly:
[box]“Shall we receive good from God, and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10)[/box]
Job’s question temporarily lifts the curtain of suffering to provide a clear vision of the unseen. His pain doesn’t suddenly disappear, Job is still scraping his puss-filled sores, he still longs to see his children, to wake from the nightmare he is living . . . but he knows God well enough to remind himself (and his foolish wife) that we’re not in a position to refuse God’s gifts—His gifts of abundance or His gifts of loss.
When Friends Add to the Pain
By the time Job’s friends arrive, he’s sat in his suffering for some time. They “came each from his own place,” so when the devastation hit they weren’t there, but when they heard about it they traveled to Job. I commend them for that—they came, they didn’t send word that they’d pray for Job or be thinking of him, but they actually came to be with him. And when they finally see him, they can’t say a word—which was more of a gift to Job than all of their speeches. They sat with him for a week, up close to the depths of his suffering. You would think that by watching their tormented friend, there would be no room for criticism. But if you think that, you’re wrong. They found room.
When the silence is finally broken, the first friend lays into Job with words of criticism. And I want to say, “Really?” You’re going to heap rebukes on top of this suffering man? You’re going to tell him that he’s impatient and criticize his emotional state?
I want to yell at this “comforter,” Don’t kick your friend when he’s down!
But instead of yelling at this ancient figure, I pause and consider. Do I really listen to the deep sorrow my friend is experiencing? Do I climb into her pain, do I join her there, or am I getting my speech ready as she is scraping her sores? Am I patient with the suffering of others?
When the Apostle Paul provided the Roman believers with the “marks of a true Christian,” he included this important instruction:
[box]“. . . Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)[/box]
Do we do that? Do we climb into the pain and join our friend in the sorrow? I don’t think we have to literally weep, but I think Paul is telling us that a mark of a believer is bearing the pain with our friend in a tangible way. If my friend’s suffering moves me with compassion, I’m going to hurt with her, listen to her, and yes, maybe even weep with her.
True Compassion Gives the Gift of Patience
Impatience with a hurting friend is a red flag; it indicates that I’ve not listened well, I’ve not allowed her pain to affect me, and I’m dangerously close to moving into criticism mode—even as my friend is scraping the sores of her affliction. There is a time for sharing wisdom and insight, there is a time for speaking truth in love, there is a time for giving instruction, but don’t get impatient and rush past the time to weep. And I pray that none of us will ever be guilty of kicking our sister when she is down.
Let’s tell our suffering friend to run to the cross, to keep her heart fixed on the truth that she’s not yet seen the end of the story, and to preach the gospel to herself in her misery. But before we unload the speeches, let’s weep with her.
Are you willing to listen well and weep with your friend?
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