The Comforting Power of Quiet Presence

In one of yesterday’s posts, we noted the atrocious counsel of Job’s friends and learned how not to counsel others who are in the valley of suffering. Today, let’s look for a moment at the one thing these three men did right. Here’s what the sacred text says (pay special attention to the last sentence):

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. (Job 2:11-13).

Let them know you care by simply being there. The one thing these friends did that contributed to Job’s comfort in his time of great trial was to offer him their silent presence. I’m convinced as biblical counselors—myself included—that we simply don’t recognize how powerfully our quiet presence can minister to someone in their deep valley of grief. When someone you love loses someone they love, it can be powerfully therapeutic to them (in the best sense of the word) to carefully close your mouth, open your ears, and perhaps even offer a tender touch if it is appropriate. In your grief ministry be sure to take time to truly weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). Don’t be too quick to offer “answers.” Let them cry. Allow them to even be numb for a brief time. Pray for them. And pray for yourself to speak wisely when the time is right.

When the time is right, speak, but speak with wisdom and grace. Quiet presence is an important part of our ministry to one another in times of loss; however, it is not sufficient. At some point we must speak words of truth, but do so in love for their comfort and the nurturing of their faith in Christ (Eph 4:15). Make sure your words are saturated by God’s words, but not in a preachy manner or tone. Gentleness is better (1 Tim 6:11). There may come a time for stronger exhortation, later down the road, but be careful, if that time comes, that you speak for their benefit, not simply to make yourself feel better for getting something off your chest. Come alongside them with God’s words of promise (see 1 Thess 4:18 for an example of how this is intended to work), comfort (2 Cor 1:3-4) and compassion (Col 3:12) in a timely manner (Eph 4:29).

Pursue incarnational ministry. Like Jesus, let us strive to be “full of [both] grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Recommended Resource: Counseling One Another: A Theology of Interpersonal Discipleship

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