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Job's friends - a lesson in what not to say when your friend is hurtingImagine one of your friends has just received devastating and life-changing news. A lost job. A spouse walking out after 15 years. A cancer diagnosis. A problem appearing on a prenatal ultrasound.

How do you show sympathy and support while encouraging them to face an uncertain future with courage? What do you say? Or rather, what do you not say?

I’m reminded of a story in the Bible about a man who faced unimaginable loss in a short period of time. All of his wealth gone in a flash. All of his children killed. Plagued by painful boils, Job sat alone in a pile of ashes.

Then three of his friends decided to come together and comfort him. First, they did it right. They sat with him, cried and didn’t say a word.

Then they opened their mouths. All three asserted that Job must have sinned and therefore God was punishing him. The more Job tried to defend himself, the more they pointed fingers of accusation and continued their lectures based on bad theology. If he’d only get his life right with God, then he’d be blessed again. In the end, God revealed His true character, blessed Job … and reprimanded these three friends, telling them to bring sacrifices and hope Job would pray on their behalf because they had spoken falsely. Ouch.

Lessons to be learned?

  • Don’t judge. Only God has all the facts. The tragedies in Job’s life were allowed only because of his faithfulness to God. Sometimes bad things happen to us through no fault of our own, simply because of the wrong choices others make or random cellular mutations in a world teeming with diseases.
  • Don’t say you know just how they feel. You might have an idea because you’ve gone through something similar. But your friend is a unique individual and we all process emotions differently.
  • Don’t offer trite statements of wisdom. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” “Special kids for special parents.” “God works all things together for good.” “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” “God will provide.” While these words of wisdom roll of the tongue with ease (and contain elements of truth), they sting like lemon juice in fresh wounds. Wait until a more appropriate time.
  • Do listen. Offer a shoulder to cry on. Pray for them. Weep with those who weep. And ask what you can do to help.

What about you? When you faced difficult times, what is the worst thing someone said to you? What was the best thing someone said? Why?

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