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 2:13 (NASB)
As a teacher and counselor people come to me with burdens and woes of life. It can be as serious as an impending divorce, a prodigal child, or a diagnosis of cancer. There are times when there are no words that can be spoken, for the gravity of the situation goes beyond our language. In those times we fumble around, thinking we ought to say something...we reach into our Bible bag and mentally search for the perfect verse to comfort or console. We try to offer hope for a positive outcome or a better tomorrow for the one who suffers and when we put forth our effort it seems to fall flat. The eyes of the wounded one gaze upon us, filled with anguish and we wish we would have remained silent.
Take a lesson from Job's three friends- at least at the beginning of their visit with Job. They all came to comfort him and console him in his time of need and when they arrived all they could do was to sit down around him in silence and simply be there. It would have been better for all concerned had those three men continued with that type of consolation if you ask me. It was when they opened their mouths that they went from consoling to tormenting!
I think we can take a cue from the three friends of Job, and learn that sometimes the best comfort we can be to a hurting person is to simply be a physical presence in the room with them for a while. Silence can be a great comfort to a person whose life has been rocked by tragedy or pain. Words are not always needed, and certainly "dispensing" Bible verses like M&M's is not needed either.
In the above verse the expression, "his pain was very great" actually means that it was increasing as time went on. The pain and misery increased hour by hour, day by day. All Job's friends could do was to sit there in horror as they watched him grow more wretched in front of their eyes.
While the people we comfort have the benefit of medicine like morphine if they are in physical pain from cancer or another ailment, it does not always completely remove the discomfort. At times they are left with significant pain levels, and all their loved ones can do is watch them suffer. We don't think of offering Bible verses to them at that time, or telling them "It's going to be alright" we sit by them and hope our presence brings them comfort, knowing they are not alone.
There are some pains there is no medicine for. The heartache of an abandonment, the parents whose child is wayward, the loss of everything material due to financial ruin, the fear of being alone, being unwanted in your old age... what comfort can we bring to these people whose pain will only increase in the coming days and weeks and maybe months and years?
We can bring them ourselves. We can sit beside them and hold their hand, we can listen to them pour their hearts out to us- without response. Not to indulge self-pity but to comfort in silence. Often people in such a state are not even aware of what they are thinking or saying, they are simply spewing thoughts and random memories. This phase will pass and there will come a time for you to give input into their situation and possibly into their life in an ongoing basis. But you must bide your time for such things. Before you earn the right to speak into their life you must be a good listener and comforter in silence.