(Excerpt taken from The Friendships of Women by widow Dee Brestin)
Ruth used her feminine gift for intimacy amazingly to comfort Naomi. She doesn’t try to fix the problem. She doesn’t quote Romans 8:28, but simply comes alongside and hurts with Naomi, and, in so doing, helps carry some of Naomi’s pain.
Job’s friends were fixers, like many males are. But they misapplied God’s truths, assuming that the misfortune in Job’s life was due to his sin. So, instead of comforting him, they drove the knife in Job’s heart to excruciating depths.
Ruth was equipped to be a better friend, in part, because she was a woman. But she was also equipped because she, too, had suffered. She, too, had lost a husband and knew something of Naomi’s anguish.
Luci Shaw, my friend and favorite poet was widowed in midlife. I remember sitting with Luci at her dining room table after Harold’s death. I could see the pain in her eyes. She described being widowed as “radical surgery–like being cut in half.” When Luci shared this with me over twenty years ago, I had no idea that she was mentoring me to walk the same road one day. I recorded her words:
“I’m learning to welcome pain, and not to dodge it. It’s one of the most valuable of lessons. Pain has a refining work to do in us, if we welcome it. It teaches us what is temporal, what is superficial, and what is abiding and deep. I’m trying to let pain do its work in me.”
Paul exhorts us to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). The word he uses for burdens refers to the temporary overburden that a sister may be carrying, as distinct from the everyday load he refers to in Galatians 6:5. When we are temporarily overburdened due to the stress of death, divorce, illness, and so on, we definitely need the supportive help of our sisters. We need someone to come alongside and help shoulder the overburden.
The best way to do that is by empathizing, weeping with those who weep. Your quiet and listening presence will help absorb some of the pain and relieve some of the burden. If we attempt to deny the burden by pointing out the blessings, we add to the pain. Solomon clarifies this with similes: “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart” (Proverbs 25:20). Too much cheerfulness or the offering of solutions intensifies grief.
I understood this in part before my husband’s illness, but oh, do I understand it now! Even condolence cards can twist the knife by giving you a little sermonette. When my husband was dying and suffering incredibly, I’d open up a card that said,
All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
And I’d want to scream “How insensitive!!” I know the above verse is true, but there is a time to speak it, and a time to be silent. High-tide grief calls for empathy, not solutions.