Sickness. Death. Loss. All difficult to face no matter who you are. Especially when they come close to home, touching a friend or family member. We don’t want to lose someone or face death. We want to cling to life as we know it and hold those who are dear to us close.
But, there are times we can’t do that. When those we care about are struck down in one way or another. An accident. Cancer. Covid. Whatever touches them, also touches us.
Job, is one who had so much. But, he lost almost everything. His children died. His riches were stolen. He suffered from terrible disease. And, the friends he thought he had, were not there for him.
In Job 13:12, Job says to his friends, “Your platitudes are proverbs of ashes, Your defenses are defenses of clay.”
Your platitudes… What are platitudes? Webster’s Dictionary says it is, “a banal, trite, or stale remark.” Something overused with little meaning that pertains to the situation.
God won’t give you more than you can bear.
Everything happens for a reason.
It is what it is.
Think about how much worse other people have it.
And the list of platitudes goes on and on. In some situations, these statements might have merit, but when someone is suffering they “proverbs of ashes.” Something that blows away with the wind and has no real impact, only hurts. Something worthless or better left unsaid.
So, why do we say them? Because they are easy. We’ve heard those sayings over and over so they pop into our heads without thought. We freeze in the moment and don’t know what else to say. We feel we have to say something because we want so much to help the other person.
In order to break this habit, we must train ourselves to think differently. We must relearn our automatic response patterns and train ourselves to say or do something that has more import and is helpful to the person who is suffering.
Note that Job’s friend may have made mistakes later on, but their early desire to help their friend shows compassion. First, they banded together in a show of support. Visiting as a way to show empathy is good. The solidarity in knowing one has friends that care can bring a modicum of comfort.
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. Job. 2:11-12a
When the three noted the change in Job, the way his mourning gave him a different countenance, they grieved aloud from afar. They didn’t walk up to Job and start weeping, tearing their clothes, and sprinkling dust in the air. But, they also didn’t approach with light hearts and jokes, or blunt honesty, such as, “Job, you look awful.”Job could see they mourned along with him, without the weight of their grief being too much to bear.
“And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven.” Job 2:12b
Then these men did something very beneficial. They didn’t tell him to snap out of it. They didn’t start off with the platitudes. For days, they sat with him without speaking. They supported him in their silence. Silence in this case is a good thing. There is no pressure to have the right words. There is no worry you might have spoken the wrong words. There is only a time of support and love.
“So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” Job 2:13
After the seven days, the three friends couldn’t keep quiet. As soon as Job began to express his own feelings, they opened up to what they had been thinking. They accused Job of sinning. They told him he should repent and get right with God. Without understanding the nature of the work God is doing in Job’s life, they sit in judgement and throw out platitudes. Platitudes that wounded and caused so much pain.
It’s God’s will.
God has a plan.
Time heals all wounds.
Platitudes may couch truth within them, but they are not always appropriate. The next time you visit a grieving or sick friend, consider showing empathy. Consider sitting in silence and waiting. Maybe even holding their hand or touching, if they show that’s what they want.
And, when they want to talk—listen. Just listen. If you talk, just reaffirm what they are saying and give them time. Don’t think you need to throw out words of wisdom they aren’t ready to hear. Words that will blow away like ashes.