“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” — Romans 12:15
In light of tragedy, it’s hard to know what to do or how to act or what to say. Some go to candlelight vigils. Others take action. Others pray and pray and pray. And I think, to some extent, all of us are at a loss because none of it seems good enough.
I am not an expert. I am 21. I am a college student. I don’t study anything related to psychology or counseling or loss or grief. All I know is what I have experienced.
When I was a senior in high school, my best friend’s mom died unexpectedly because of a heart attack. Six months ago, my dad was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. On Sunday, 50 innocent sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and friends were killed.
How do we wrestle with the unimaginable?
In the Bible, there’s this story about a man named Job. He is “blameless and upright” in the eyes of the Lord, as perfect a servant as there can be. Job is blessed with a beautiful family and an abundance of livestock and land. He was “the greatest of all the people of the East.”
The devil comes to God and basically says, “Of course Job is faithful to you. He has everything he could ever want or need.” So God gives satan the liberty to do what he wants to Job — to test him — so long as he is not killed.
What ensues is the downfall of everything Job had. All of his servants are killed. All of his livestock is stolen. His house collapses and kills his children. And, to top it all off, he gets leprosy (a disease inflicting sores on the skin that would make Job an outcast to his peers).
Now, let me pause here: this story is meant to be an allegory to help us understand suffering, the power of God and what our faithfulness ought to look like. The story of Job was an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation. I think it is meant to be interpreted like we interpret Jesus’ parables — as a story with a lesson.
As Christians, we sometimes struggle with the story of Job. How could God let such terrible things happen to his most faithful servant? Why did God just let the devil take everything away from him? How can God be “good” if God allowed such a terrible thing to happen?
But here’s what I think: this story is more about humanity in its purest form than it is about God. It’s a story about how bad things happen to good people. It’s a story about loss. It’s a story about what grieving should look like. And in a society where we seemingly don’t know how to do so, it’s incredibly relevant.
Here’s what happens when Job’s friends come to comfort him:
“And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
When my mom was 14, her 16-year-old sister (my namesake) died of pulmonary hypertension. When she was 23, her dad died of lung cancer.
When my mom talks about that time in her life, what strikes me most is that she remembers the people who sat with her and said nothing. The people who cried with her. The people who didn’t leave her side when she was terrified to be alone.
Sometimes, the best thing to do for someone who is mourning is to sit with them, to show them you are in solidarity with them, to cry with them.
Sometimes, we pray first because we don’t know how to act. Sometimes, we cry before we speak because we don’t know what to say. Sometimes, we go to candlelight vigils because we need to be around other humans who remind us there is still hope.
Sometimes, the best thing to say to someone who is grieving is nothing at all.