We have all been there. A friend is suffering. Profoundly. We share their anguish and feel useless in the face of the tragedy that threatens to swallow our cherished brother or sister whole.
What should I say?
I desperately do not want to be a miserable comforter (Job 16:2); perhaps I should just leave a casserole and back away slowly, assuring her I will pray and be just a phone call away. Give her some space to sort all this out. Definitely.
But then I know she most likely will not call. And I also know she needs her friends now — even inept, fear-filled friends like me.
The Lament of a Godly Man
In Psalm 88, we are given a glimpse into the private anguish of one of the wisest men ever to live (1 Kings 4:31). Heman the Ezrahite cries out to his impossibly transcendent God Who seems to have abandoned him in his darkness; at the end of this psalm, Heman’s prayer goes unanswered.
We want Heman to emerge triumphant at the end of Psalm 88, but he does not. He does not cheer up, and there is no silver lining for him. Not yet. Heman begins his lament by calling on the covenant name of God, YHWH, as if to remind the LORD of His steadfast love and commitment to His people. Heman’s theology is solid; he’s just having trouble reconciling what he knows about God with his circumstances at the moment. I find it remarkable that God saw fit to include Heman’s cry in the church’s inspired song book — it is so raw.
You Can’t Pretend to Be There
Like Heman, my friend does not need rebuke right now. She doesn’t need me to correct her theology, although it may be appropriate for me gently to remind her of God’s promises to her. What she desperately needs is tangible proof from the body of Christ that her LORD is near
(Hebrews 13:5), despite what her eyes see.
This pain is not intrinsically mine, but as I choose to sit in the ash heap and weep with her (Job 2:8,11-13), I bear her grief, and in doing so I bear the image of the God Who is near, the Immanent One (John 1:14; Isaiah 53:4). This won’t be a neat, tidy process, and it likely won’t end when I want it to, but my Lord suffered far more than mere inconvenience for me. The least I can do is let her borrow my faith for a time, and pray what she doesn’t have the strength to pray for herself.
For Lynn and Darlene. Thank you for being there.