The best gift a friend can offer to someone who is ill is quiet comfort and support.
I've always disliked the Book of Job in the Bible. The idea of God laying a bet with Satan to test the strength of Job's faith by hurting him and taking away everything that he loves and cares about is a disturbing idea, to say the least.
But there is one important message I heard in reading the story, and that is the reaction of Job's friends. Job's life is being whittled away bit by bit — he has lost his crops, his livestock and his family. He is truly aggrieved. Job's friends live a distance from him, but they come together and decide to visit Job in order to help him mourn. For the first seven days, they merely sit with him, quietly. They do not say a word. They support him, let him have his sadness and be there with him in his time of trial.
But finally, they speak. They say it is his fault he has lost so much, because he has sinned. He deserved what he got. And then, after berating him, they begin to give him advice. And they do not stop giving him advice. For pages and pages, they give him advice. Even when Job tells his friends that they are "miserable comforters," they still will not stop giving him advice.
Want to know my favorite part in the Book of Job? After pages and pages and pages of the friends' advice giving, God finally speaks from a whirlwind. He asks Job's friends, "who are you to talk?" And then he tells them to shut up. Best. Moment. Ever.
What really impressed me in Job's story was the seven days his friends sat with him and gave him comfort. I know I've been guilty of wanting to fix things for a friend — giving advice instead of comfort. But really, the most valuable gift a friend can provide is quiet and steady support.
That's what I've learned to value. I value my friend Lisa who offers to come over and keep me company; my friends Deborah and Carole who would drop off delicious food on my porch; my friends Emmy, Jo Ann and Sheila who came with me to doctor appointments; my friend Ann who would send books and little surprises through the mail; my Aunt Carole and Uncle Mike who came with me to chemotherapy and took care of me after my surgery; my nephews Josh and Ben and my sister Meg who came to DC several times to help me maintain my house and just keep me company; and my cousins Diana and Bob who drove down from Pennsylvania, in spite of troubles of their own, to tend my garden and fix a few things around my house. I value many, many more people who did many, many more things.
These are the actions that matter. This is a friend.
As Henri J.M. Nouwen so aptly stated, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."
My lesson from the Book of Job? Mourn with a friend, sit with a friend and shut the heck up. It's a lesson I sure need to remember. So I'll shut up now. And I'll be here for you when you need a comforting friend.