Then Job answered and said, I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest? I also could speak as ye do: if your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should asswage your grief. Though I speak, my grief is not asswaged: and though I forbear, what am I eased?
Am I a miserable comforter? When someone is struggling or suffering, do my words of help actually hurt? I think sometimes we are good at throwing out some platitudes and Christian clichés at people and feeling like we’re making a difference. That’s kind of what Job’s friends were doing, and he’s over here like, “That doesn’t help.” But he does come to learn, having been in his position, what not to say. He comes to understand what true comfort looks like, and he thinks he could be a real source of comfort for someone else in pain. But sometimes, honestly, talking about a situation might not help. Words are not always a balm to our grief. And sharing our burdens with others does not always lead to comfort or relief. Job knew all the things his friends were saying to him, but that’s not what he needed in this moment to experience real comfort.
So what can we do? How can we comfort someone who is hurting? I think we should start with prayer. We can pray for the person, for their need, for God to offer His perfect comfort, but then we can pray for guidance about how best to approach someone. We can ask them what they need or want from us instead of presuming. Sometimes just being available and being near will make the most difference—presence over platitudes, an investment of our time, our thoughts, our emotions, our shoulders to cry on for the sake of a suffering friend.
Job’s situation is proof that the worst of things can befall the most godly people. Indeed, no one is immune to struggle in this life. The burdens of life are real and its griefs painful. And what we say to people matters, especially in their most difficult and vulnerable moments. So let’s not add to it with things that may make us feel good but that don’t actually help the person or their situation. Let’s be mindful of how we treat others and how we are “helping” so we can be blessings to them instead of miserable comforters.