When Silence Is Best
Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.
And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.
So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great. Job 2:11-13
Well, now, Job’s friends start off pretty well, they mess up later, but they start well. First of all, they all traveled to him. They did not expect that the one who was hurting would come to them. Instead they inconvenienced themselves for the one who was hurting. I’m sure that these men had families and business and responsibilities that they left just to come see their friend.
They came without be asked. When they heard about the evil that had fallen on Job, they just came. They just knew. So often when something bad happens to a friend, we wait to see if they need anything. Could we all just decide to stop saying the phrase, “if you need something, let me know?” I know, I know, I still find myself doing it too.
When my life was falling apart, I wanted to just kind of wave my arm over my life and say, just pick something! Anything! I was overwhelmed and overworked and just generally needed help. I had one friend who found out the day we were moving and just showed up. And when she showed up, she picked a room and got started. I don’t remember her asking me a single question. And it was the best present she could have given me.
So here are Job’s friends, just showing up. No questions, no consultations, just presence.
Job’s friends also decided all this together. It says they made an appointment together to come. Maybe you need a little help? I do. I feel weird and awkward just showing up to grief myself. Do you have a friend that’s hurting? Maybe get a few friends together and show up. At least you won’t be weird and awkward alone.
The next part is my favourite. They just sat down beside him and mourned with him. In silence. There are some griefs beyond words. There are some personalities that don’t want to talk it out. Silence beside someone is always a great option. Some things that are not always a great option - your ideas and opinions, platitudes, inspirational quotes, filling the silence with chatter, asking a million questions, or really, any questions. Even Romans 8:28 is not always a good idea. That may sound sacrilegious, but sometimes people just need your presence accompanied by your silence.
O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom. Job 13:5
He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding. Proverbs 17:27-28
Verses and encouragement and reassurances can come later, after a person is sure of your grief for them. When I was at my darkest, the songs and verses and words that came from those I knew were truly for me meant the most. Those that had walked the darkness with me were the ones that I trusted to speak into my soul.
There is a silence that is not okay though. That is silence without presence. It’s okay to not know what to say if you just show up. It’s even okay to say the wrong thing if you just show up.
There were so many people that I would’ve counted as friends before, that just never showed up again. I didn’t necessarily need anything from them, just them. Just a walk, a note, and phone call, just a stop by to let me know that they were there. It doesn’t take much to encourage a friend who is in the depths. Just you. Just show up.
And then sit in silence for a while. It’s in the silence that you figure out what your friend needs you to say.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.