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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How NOT to Cheer Up a Distressed, Suffering Friend

“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?

Where were the upright ever destroyed?”

~Job 4:7 (NIV).

Some people are terribly presumptuous. They’ll jump at a moment’s notice to harangue a person in their suffering—at times even thinking they’re doing them a favour. It’s a bit like when someone gets cancer and a ‘well-meaning’ “Christian” tells them it’s because they’ve sinned. We’ve all heard these stories and even suffered from them I suspect. Well, this is how Eliphaz was treating Job in the above verse. Can you imagine Job’s frustration?

Of course, we know that life treats all similarly. The innocent as well as the guilty fall foul of life (and death). The upright as well as the wicked, equally, can be “destroyed.”

If there’s one thing I’m glad of in my writing it’s the still small Voice that occasionally reminds me when I’m getting a touch self-righteous, even in the mood behind the words, and to then conform—and fall into—God’s grace. None of us, at our core, are any better than the next person.

There are ways to help an ailing friend and there are ways not to...

Assumptions reduce understanding and insight

We all make assumptions—these are leaps of our ‘common sense,’ where unfortunately common sense is not very common! We must conform our assumptions to the truth by asking more questions before coming to conclusions. We should remain curious and open-minded, especially in someone else’s plight, no matter what they’ve done or what seems to have happened.

As soon as we’ve made ‘the leap’ our span of focus narrows dramatically. The case is closed, hatches are battened and the jury’s back. In this mood we don’t listen anymore—we’ve ‘got it.’ This is paradoxically a dangerous place to be.

Shame blocks grace and hinders relief

Whenever we at times unwittingly resort to admonishment of people undergoing any sort of pain we create shame in them and this no doubt prolongs their pain. We’re not helping.

Chuck Swindoll says, “Shame shoves you further into the tight grip of anguish,” a betwixt emotion of ongoing torment. This is a horrible place for anyone to be.

Our jobs are to augment and facilitate relief, if that is possible, not delay it. No matter the circumstances we can offer simple empathy by just sitting and being with them, offering a hug, a smile, a gently encouraging word—this brings at least temporary relief.

Pride eclipses mercy and compassion

“Pride and compassion cannot coexist.” When we think we know the answer all mercy and compassion suddenly flies out the window. We may even know the answer, but our use of it determines our grip on wisdom. There’s both a time and a place to share the answer, but it’s not in the mix of grief.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.


Charles R. Swindoll, “Responding to Bad Counsel” in Job – A Man of Heroic Endurance (Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 2004), pp. 73-89. Both quotes used appear on page 87. The three headings above also come verbatim from this source, though the ideas are embellished.

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