GET REAL WITH PEOPLE
Yesterday we talked about the importance of grieving our losses with God. Today, I want to talk about the importance of getting real with a few people God has placed in our life, and, how a few, close, empathetic friends can be a means of God's healing grace.
Sometimes we need a friend who will just listen. Sometimes we need to vent horizontally. It's healthy and even necessary.
Several years ago, I read a story about a little boy who got really scared one evening during a thunder and lightning storm. This boy began to cry and immediately called for his parents. His parents came running into his room to check their little boy.
This was a family of faith and this Dad and Mom wanted to comfort their child and let him know that he could trust God in moments like this. So, they held their little boy in their arms and said, “Son, you know God is with you, right? Even on nights like this. He doesn’t leave. He’s right here.”
With tears streaming down his face, choking back sniffs and sobs, the little guy looked up at his Dad and Mom and said, "I know... I know... But tonight I need somebody with skin on."
I love that! Because sometimes we all need someone with skin on!
In fact, Paul gives us this challenge in Romans 12:15.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. —Romans 12:15 NIV
Paul doesn't say, "Fix those who need to be fixed. Give wise advice to those whose life has been turned upside down. Quote a few Scriptures to them." There's a place for all of that. But here Paul basically says, "Before you do any of that, start with this: Be 'somebody with skin on' to your friend. Listen to them. Listen with your eyes, as well as your ears. Listen with your heart, not just your head.. Mourn with them. Cry with them. Weep with them. For a few moments, allow yourself to share their sadness. Be somebody with skin on!"
People need this. We need this. We all need a “little community” of close friends where we can:
- Know and be known.
- Love and be loved.
- Serve and be served.
- Celebrate and be celebrated.
- Weep and have someone who will weep with us!
This is one of the things Job’s friends got right, at least for the first seven days.
Then [Job’s friends] sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. —Job 2:13 NLT
Just a few seconds of silence makes most of us a little antsy. But imagine a group of friends who love you so much that they sit with you in absolute silence for seven days and seven nights. That's a gift.
This was such a powerful act that it ultimately became a part of Jewish life and culture. To this day, Jewish people will speak of “sitting Shiva” — that is, literally sitting seven days. When an immediate family member of someone passes, a friend or group of friends will come over and mourn for an entire week with the person who has experienced the loss. That's part of what community looks like.
Right on the heels of Job's catastrophic loss, his friends showed up and for the next seven days and nights they sat with Job in stark silence as a sign and symbol of their solidarity. Their presence communicated far more than their words ever would. For the first seven days, the response of Job's friends to his pain and loss was brilliant. After that, when they opened their mouths...not so much. (See Job 4-37)
The gift of a friend who knows how to listen is one of the best gifts you’ll ever receive. A friend who doesn’t try to fix you, but is willing to listen empathically to what you’re going through. That’s a treasure!
We all need a few friends we can get real with! We need people we can vent to. Maybe this is part of what James was describing when he wrote:
Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. —James 5:16 MSG
Do you have someone like that in your life?
I would only offer one caution: If you’re going to vent horizontally, be wise about who you vent to. When it comes to sharing this kind of deep, unanswered pain, you need friends who: 1) love you unconditionally, 2) are committed to Jesus and His Word, 3) possess some wisdom and self-discipline, and, 4) actually love you enough to compassionately confront any unhealthy thinking patterns that might eventually need to be addressed. That kind of friend is crucial!
Because while we desperately need friends who are gracious enough to listen to our pain, we also need friends who are wise enough to know when incessant, non-stop horizontal venting has become unhealthy and is actually draining us of hope, damaging our faith, and putting dings in our relational world.
That kind of friend has earned the right to be able to look at us and say, “Time out. Take a breath. Here’s another perspective…”
Healing begins when we get real with God and get real with a few people.
Who has God placed in your life that might be that kind of friend to you? Why not give them a call, or schedule a coffee or lunch?
Who could you potentially be that kind of friend to? Why not give the other person a call? Invite them out for coffee, dinner or a movie?
Maybe you're wondering, "Could someone really relate to the pain, fear and loss I'm struggling with and going through?" You might be surprised.
C.S. Lewis once wrote:
“Friendship ... is born at the moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” —C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I don't think Lewis is implying that your friend has to have been through the same kind of pain or loss you've been through to relate to you. I think he's saying, "When you get real and vulnerable with another person, it invites them to get real and vulnerable with you. In that moment, you give them the opportunity to give you the gift of a listening ear and loving heart. And at some point they may need the same from you." Healthy relationships are reciprocal like that.
When you're dealing with chronic pain or significant loss, the gift of a few close friends is critical.
Start investing in those kinds of relationships now.
Tomorrow, we'll be back with the third installment in this important series.