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Never Underestimate the Power of Presence

How do we respond when tragedy strikes?

Too often, because we don’t know what to say, we feel we can do nothing.

In the Old Testament, Job experienced immense tragedy when he lost his business, his children and his health in almost one fell swoop. News of his tragedy spread and his three friends make the trek to comfort him.

Seeing him from a distance, they were overwhelmed. Their wealthy friend was usually nicely groomed, healthy and fit, and in good spirits. Now his clothes were torn and beard shorn, as he sat in the dust weeping.

They responded with empathy, tearing their clothes and weeping too. They sat down in the dirt next to Job.

And they sat with him for the next seven days and nights without saying a word. Whether this was intentional or just a sign of their overwhelming grief, we’ll never know. It’s telling, though, in that it illustrates the power of just being present with a hurting friend.

One of our ministry staff described a similar event in how his father’s coworker Art responded when his mother was dying. He writes:

When things got bad, everyone flew in. Aunts, cousins, grandparents. They were full of distractions—trips to the zoo, cigarettes, loud jokes.
Dad spent most nights in the hospital room alone, doing his best to look death in the eyes. When Art finished his shift at 3:00 a.m., he would join Dad, hat in hand, working the cigar in the corner of his mouth. They didn’t talk, but Art came almost every night and sat, reading his King James Bible in the eerie loneliness of that awful room.

And I don’t mean to slight anyone else who was there—who can blame them?—but all the casseroles and condolences didn’t mean much. Art was simply present, offering no critiques or advice. He would occasionally weep, occasionally pray, and then he would leave Dad sleeping fitfully in the thinly padded hospital chair.

I learned a lot that Christmas. It was a dark time, chaotic and unraveling. I learned what fear, what death looked like. But through Art, and others like him, I learned what love looked like, too. I learned why Jesus cried at a funeral. I learned that sometimes the only thing that should be offered is silence.

Perhaps it was the comforting presence of friends that led Jesus to take Peter, James, and John with him when he went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. As he faced the sacrifice to come, he didn’t seek their words of comfort, but rather just their companionship.

Similarly, Job’s friends provide an excellent example of how to respond to a friend in need. Through sharing in Job’s grief and being powerfully present, they show us what friendship is.

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