If there’s one characteristic that fits most of us, it’s being busy. We rush from place to place, one appointment to the next, frantic to squeeze one more thing into the inflexible limits of a 24-hour day. We feel guilty if we’re not actually doing something. However, sometimes the best thing we can do is just be there.
We see an example in the Old Testament book of Job. The central character of this account, Job had lost everything – livestock, barns, servants, sons and daughters, and finally his health. And none of it because of anything he’d done wrong.
Upon hearing about Job’s successive calamities, his friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar rushed to his side. They offered sympathy and tried to give him comfort. “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:13).
Zophar so good…I mean, so far. They were there for him, wept with him, showed compassion, and kept their mouths shut for seven complete days. Then they made a critical mistake. After hearing Job bemoan his plight, they decided to do something. It was time to fix the problem, the three agreed, and took turns insisting Job must have brought this adversity upon himself, so he needed to fess up, tell God what he’d done wrong, and seek His forgiveness.
This didn’t help joyless Job at all. It’s not recorded per se in the passage but he probably thought, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” Maybe we can’t blame the friends for presuming somehow Job was being punished for his sins and repentance was in order. But what Job needed most was not advice or accusations, but simply for them to be there with him.
I thought of this after reading a comment from a writer in India I’ve gotten acquainted with. I’ll call him Raj. Like me, Raj and his wife have children and grandchildren, and he was telling about visiting their son’s family in Australia. They took the grandchildren to a playground nearby, and the first day no one was there. The next day a few children were already there and asked if they could join in playing.
Each day Raj, his wife and grandchildren visited the playground, they found more children there, all eager to join the playground festivities until the number had grown to more than two dozen. Raj started referring to them as “the team.”
One day they did not go to the playground, and Raj writes, “we got a surprise of our life the next day. More than a dozen children had come to our house, some with their toy guns, threatening to shoot and asking why I didn’t come to play. When we were leaving to return to India, they marked our departure with tears.”
What did my writing colleague from India do? Not much really. He was just being there, first with his grandchildren and then with other children who were eager to join them in some playground games. But by just being there, Raj gave what they needed most – a little love, attention, and some happy smiles.
It’s amazing what just being there can accomplish. When friends are grieving the loss of a loved one, what they need most is not our platitudes, or abundant words of comfort or assurances that time will heal the hurt, but for us to just be there showing we care.
I’ve mentioned before my friend, Gary Highfield, who wrote When ‘Want To’ Becomes ‘Have To!’ to tell his story of overcoming a childhood of dysfunction and poverty to build a surprisingly successful business career. Leveraging the message of his book, Gary now goes into public schools and meets with middle school and high school youths faced with similar adversity, helping to dispel their hopelessness and replace it with hope for a brighter future. Most of all, he’s just being there.
Some friends at our church are deeply invested in a midweek children’s program, working with boys and girls from poor, single-parent homes. For a couple of hours each week, youngsters are greeted with what they rarely find at home – focused attention, genuine love, and an escape from loneliness and bad influences. Again, our friends know the value of just being there.
I’ve experienced this myself in mentoring other men, visiting open-heart surgery patients as a volunteer, and picking up the phone and calling a friend I haven’t talked to in a while. Sometimes being there is the only thing you can do – but often it’s also the best thing to do.
There might be specific things we can do besides offer our physical presence, but being there is a necessary first step. Jesus referred to this when He told the crowd gathered around Him, “The righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ Then the King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me…’” (Matthew 25:34-46).