How dusty is your head?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Job 3:1-26, Acts 9:10-19a, John 6:41-51


Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, having heard of his tragedy, arrived at his home to console and comfort him. They did so by acknowledging Job’s grief: “They raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.” Afterward, and more importantly, “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

Then Job, who was faithful but not superhuman, cursed the day he was born. Anger, grief, and confusion poured out of him. He did not reject God, but he was not afraid to demand an accounting for the injustice of the world. After this his friends thought they could best help by trying to make sense of it for him. If they had been as smart as they thought they were and kept silent, Job would have been about thirty-seven chapters shorter.

When we have a friend whose suffering is great, what is our first instinct? Many of us try to make the person feel better as quickly as possible. Others want to offer advice on how to solve or get past the problem. A smaller number suffer in solidarity. And a gifted few are willing to be present but silent. A wonderful ecumenical organization called Stephen Ministries trains people to be present for other people in crisis. Stephen ministers do not fix, and do not counsel. They listen and love.

In the next chapter, Eliphaz will offer Job some unsolicited advice. Like we might, he does this as much to reassure himself as to comfort his friend. The other friends will follow suit. This helps move along the book’s exploration of the nature of suffering, but it does more harm than good for Job. Listening is a gift anyone can give, even without formal training. When someone shares their suffering with us, sometimes the best thing we can do for them is to sit in the road next to them, and let the dust settle on our heads.

Comfort: Each of us can listen, and be listened to.

Challenge: The next time you have the urge to fix someone’s problem or give them advice, spend time just listening to them instead.

Prayer: God of renewal, thank you for ears that help others heal. Amen.

Discussion: Are you a fixer? Are you frustrated by people who try to fix? Both?

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