Miserable comforters

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February feels like a zoo – between Valentines Day, Seb’s birthday, Chloe’s birthday, our wedding / family anniversary, Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Lent – it’s a full month. And that doesn’t even include the Super Bowl and my month-long rooting against the Patriots:

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The snow is starting to clear in the Cleve. Which means my days of re-reading Peggy Noonan on What America Could Be, sipping hot cocoa by the fire as we watch Fergie put an odd spin on the Star Spangled Banner, and general hibernation activities of our Ohio winters are finally coming to an end.

Now we can leave the confines of our cozy homes to see other humans and buy new magnets from Hedges in Chagrin like this one:minivanAnd find entertaining Post-it notes from Sebby like this one last Sunday morning:

Apparently (I can never use that word without thinking of this guy), after getting the newspaper, drinking his water, and reading his Keys for Kids devotional, it was worth sneaking upstairs to watch YouTube videos about alligators even at the risk of impending doom and punishment. Speaking of punishment…

We tend to very humanly and wrongly view our suffering as God’s mean-spirited punishment. We scream at God. Question what He’s doing. And as Joni Eareckson Tada writes, He can handle it. But at some point, we read the Psalms and see that after going ape for a time, David always came back to the fundamental truths of Scripture – that God is loving, is good, and that everything He allows is from His loving hand.

Recently, I heard a woman who lost her father to a heart attack and then her mother and step-father to a plane crash share about how she found solace in God’s arms despite the suffering He allowed in her life while she came to terms with Lamentations 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”

And when life goes bad for a friend like this woman, we have a choice to either listen and encourage them with our presence or we can open our big stupid mouths, throw verses and theological truths at them, and cause even more turmoil and distress. Like Job’s friends, we can be “miserable comforters”, who hurt rather than help.

As Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes would say “People, they’re the worst” or as Camus once wrote, “L’enfer c’est les autres” and I’m sure throughout my lifetime, especially in my younger years I was definitely “the worst”, l’enfer, a well-intentioned but wrong “miserable comforter.” I’m sure my insensitivity prompted many to ask, like the Black Eyed Peas, “where is the love?”

Cue Don Carson’s quote on page 216 of Tim Keller’s book on suffering:

“There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals. This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the “miserable comforter” (Job’s friends) who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive or whose true theology is couched in such culture-laden clichés that they grate rather than comfort.”

Which is why, as Pastor Aaron mentioned, in Jewish tradition when someone mourns (sits shiva) you don’t speak until the mourner does. Because what did Jesus do when He came upon Lazarus’ siblings in grief?

He wept.

Implicit here is the simple fact that both the sins of commission and omission are at play when relating to a person enduring a fiery trial of life. It’s not just about what we SHOULDN’T do, it’s about what we SHOULD do as a comforter.

We should weep. We should provide genuine comfort by being present, engaging ourselves in their struggle, and not saying dumb and ill timed things.

As our pastor noted Sunday, 2 Corinthians 1:3 says we’re “comforted by God so that we can comfort others,” much like Abraham was blessed “in order to be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2) – whatever we’ve received from our Father, even comfort, is a gift, and one to be paid forward.

Speaking of gifts, thank you for the Chia Pet. Seb’s still growing in his ability to care for a pet, sorry Bob Ross. I don’t think that hair’s coming in evenly anytime soon.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Miserable comforters

  1. Chaz

    So funny! And Go Eagles! But thank you, seriously, for such compelling thoughts. So well said, and so sorely needed to be said.

  2. Beautiful words and sentiments that I really needed hear. I love your writing and your wit, and seriously the Patriots are the worst! We were in Boston around deflategate and everyone was wearing “Free Tom Brady” shirts. ;0

    Reading your words and “reconnecting” over the interwebs I am kicking myself again that I missed out on the fellowship of your friendship in high school. I really could have benefited from knowing you better! Your family is beautiful! I am so happy for you.

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