After church yesterday I had the opportunity to accompany my pastor father-in-law as we visited a beautiful godly woman in the emergency room who was experiencing painful complications of a 4 year battle with cancer. Then from there we went to a funeral visitation and hugged a brave new widow with three dear girls. Just a year ago she had stood in that same spot for the visitations of her all too young son. Tragedies, pain and suffering surround us daily. No doubt your prayer list, social media feed and newspaper headlines also speak of many in deep trials. And perhaps you are there in the midst of one yourself. Whether we are the family suffering – or just the ones feeling a small fraction of their pain – the book of Job offers some excellent examples of grief and from these we can glean some wise advice for those suffering trials and those who try to offer comfort.
Chapter 10 opens with our suffering servant of God, Job, having some words with his Maker. He begins:
“I loathe my very life;
therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.
2 I say to God: Do not declare me guilty,
but tell me what charges you have against me.
3 Does it please you to oppress me,
to spurn the work of your hands,
while you smile on the plans of the wicked?
Job 10:1-3 (NIV)
Hating his life, complaining, bitterness, questioning, it’s not a pretty picture. But it is a very real picture. Job is working his way through some of the stages of grief: denial, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction, acceptance and hope. He is not yet to the upward turn. I can easily think, get over it Job, that’s no fun to read, enough with your bitter pity party. But then I remember how I sometimes lose it over very minor losses or mere inconveniences. I have been known to get ornery when my cake flops or I hit a snag in my quilting project. I can feel a bad attitude brewing if the sink is overflowing with dirty dishes or I feel slighted by a loved one. And here’s a man who has lost 10 children, his wealth, his livelihood and his health, and his wife and friends are adding to his grief. It’s time I give him some grace. He needs a hug right now, not a sermon. It takes time and often some ugliness to get to the upward turn and the beauty of restoration and hope. (Spoiler alert: keep reading Job – he gets there – and he repents for his previous attitude and misunderstanding of God. If you just can’t help peaking ahead read Job 42.)
The danger lies in not continuing the process. I remember a sermon years ago from my pastor father-in-law. It’s important to listen to the sermons BEFORE the crisis hits since we sometimes aren’t ready to listen too well in the middle of the crisis. One simple phrase he said has stuck with me, “Better, not Bitter”. We get to choose what we take away from pain and suffering. We can use any experience, even the most painful, to grow in our relationship to God and others and to become a better version of ourselves. Or, we can feed the bitterness and distance ourselves further and further from God and those who are trying to help.
It is natural and normal to feel real bitterness in the midst of grief. It is a stage, but don’t let it become your life. If you ever find yourself feeling the bitterness of Job – do what he did. Keep talking to God about it. God can handle it and it will help you walk through that stage of grief. There is beauty and hope waiting on the other side.
If you are standing beside someone in pain (and God encourages us to put ourselves in that position), allow them time and space to grieve, even if it gets a little ugly.
Whatever you face today – cancer or the death of a loved one, or just an overflowing sink – how can you practice working towards “Better, not Bitter”?
Read or listen to today’s passage at – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+10-13&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Job 14-16. We are following the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan