When We Need the Comfort of Others

need comfort+

 

When pain overwhelms me, I long for companionship.

I want someone to talk to me, weep with me, sit with me. I want someone to put human flesh on God’s comfort.

That may sound unspiritual to some people. It always sounded faintly unspiritual to me. It seemed weak to want comfort from other people.  I thought that if God alone were sufficient to meet my every need, I should never want anyone else.

And of course, He is sufficient. We need the presence of God more than we need anything else. He is the God of all comfort. My entire ministry is based on that fact.

Yet at the same time, I also long for the comfort of my friends. I need community. And I need it most acutely when I am suffering.

This need has always felt vaguely unholy. A part of my sinful flesh that would one day be redeemed. A weakness that would diminish over time. I assumed my role in community would eventually evolve just to serve, not to receive.

Then I saw it. When I first noticed it, it startled me.

In his darkest moments, Jesus wanted His friends.

Mark 14:32-35 says:

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”

Jesus didn’t want to be alone in His suffering. He wanted human companionship.

Jesus didn’t ask His disciples to accompany Him when He was communing with His Father. He often arose early in the morning to be with God by Himself. But we see that in His hour of desperation, when He was facing unspeakable agony, He asked His friends to be with Him.

Since God the Father has always had unbroken fellowship in Trinity, He has never lacked community. But Jesus in the Garden knew that His fellowship with God would soon be completely severed, and He longed for companionship.

Clearly this longing was not sinfully weak or needy. It did not reflect a lack of trust in God or a fragile faith. It was simply human. God incarnate longed for fellowship. Because God created us to live in community.

In the same way, our friends often long for presence in their suffering. Caring for them from a distance is not enough. They aren’t looking for answers to their deepest questions. Or solutions to their pressing problems. They just need our presence.

For some of us, that’s a difficult task. Much harder than it sounds. It’s easier to tell stories. Offer advice. Lecture about optimism. Recite a Bible verse or even deliver a mini-sermon. Those are easier than just being with someone in their grief.

We want instant relief, for ourselves and for our friends. So it’s tempting to try to rush their healing, fix their problems, alleviate their doubts. Then we feel we’ve accomplished something.

Sitting seems so useless. So inefficient. So pointless.

And yet it is infinitely invaluable.

Our presence alone is a gift. As we sit, our suffering friends may not respond to conversation. Some communicate little in their grief. They process internally. They offer no words. Maybe a few tears. Maybe a vacant look. Or maybe just a chasm of emptiness.

Other people are verbal processors, flooded with words about how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Most of these words are not carefully thought out. Or wholly theological. They are at best painful groans not intended for evaluation or judgment.

No matter how they process, no one is requesting from us a deluge of words in response. They just want someone to be there with them.

Simply being present with our friends is more healing than we can imagine.

I still remember a friend who often stopped by the house after our son Paul died. She rarely spoke and mostly sat with me, unobtrusively. I loved having her there. I didn’t feel that I had to make any conversation. But at the same time I knew she would listen if I wanted to talk. I didn’t want to be alone, though I would never have verbalized it that way. I simply knew that her presence was a great comfort.

Author Joe Bayly had a similar experience after burying his second son. Bayly says:

I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.

I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.

I understand Bayly’s first friend. He wanted to make things better. He wanted to do something, and words seemed to be the answer. He thought they would bring comfort.

I am well familiar with that attitude. When there is something to be done, I want to do it. But when there is nothing else to do, I often flee. It’s less uncomfortable. Less uncomfortable for me, that is.

Neonatal pediatrician Dr. John Wyatt does not flee. In his practice, he has had to make difficult and painful clinical decisions. Sometimes there are no treatments left for his tiny patients; his training and expertise can do no more. It is then that Wyatt simply sits and weeps with their grieving parents. And perhaps that is his greatest service.

He says in his book, Matters of Life and Death,

“Suffering in another human being is a call to the rest of us to stand in community. It is a call to be there. Suffering is not a question which demands an answer, it is not a problem which requires a solution, it is a mystery which demands a presence.”

What a powerful reminder of how we can comfort those who suffering. And how others can comfort us as well.

For suffering is a mystery that demands a presence.

 

 

  • March 3, 2016 - 10:10 pm

    Jo - Great devotion Vaneetha. I agree with what you’ve written about the dilemma we find ourselves in when we feel a need for people and the comfort they provide. Many are taught that it’s “unspiritual” to seek solace elsewhere and that He is more than enough? But what do we do when we feel this need for as you describe, “human flesh on God’s comfort”? What I have learned for myself is that yes, He is enough and my source for all things, and it’s out of the overflow of Himself and His love for me that He does provide kind and caring people that bring me the “human” comfort I seek.

    Your devotion reminded me of something I had recently read from Henri Nouwen’s, “Our Greatest Gift”. The spiritual writer had been suffering deeply and turned to an elderly friend and priest for comfort during his season of great anguish. He writes,

    “During the most difficult period of my life, when I experienced great anguish and despair, he was there. Many times, he pulled my head to his chest and prayed for me without words, but with a Spirit-filled silence that dispelled my demons of despair and made me rise up from his embrace with new vitality”.

    Wow! What a special friend this priest must have been. Imagine being able to just lay your head upon another’s chest and feel the love of the Father pouring into your heart. Ah, yes, to hug, to weep, to lean upon, all loving movements that require no words, just “presence”.

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

    2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

    Thanks again!ReplyCancel

  • March 4, 2016 - 9:02 am

    Christianna Hellwig - Mrs. Rendall, thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts on this subject. Recently I have struggled very hard with wanting comfort in human form and yet knowing that God ought to be enough. I felt that strength came in needing no one but God. Others have told me otherwise time, and time again, but I still had doubts until I read what you said about Jesus desiring human companionship in His hour of need.
    “It did not reflect a lack of trust in God or a fragile faith. It was simply human. God incarnate longed for fellowship. Because God created us to live in community.”

    It has comforted and encouraged me. Thank you again for writing this.ReplyCancel

    • March 4, 2016 - 1:20 pm

      Vaneetha - So thankful this encouraged you, Christianna! Reading that in Scripture was a great encouragement to me,ReplyCancel

  • March 4, 2016 - 10:49 am

    Scott - Thank you Vaneetha. I was just telling my folks how grateful I have been for their presence the past few weeks, during some severe pain and anguish. I had just asked God for someone to help me carry my cross, as I was overwhelmed. He sent them. While they did do some practical things, their presence was most comforting. Thanks again for sharing. Wonderful picture of the Savior.
    Grace to you, ScottReplyCancel

    • March 4, 2016 - 1:24 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you for sharing your experience of the comfort of friends. Rejoicing with you that God gave you such precious thoughtful friends to put human flesh on His comfort.ReplyCancel

  • March 4, 2016 - 11:15 am

    Tam - Humbling. I’m one of those people who always want to ‘fix’ people’s suffering. I rush in there, filling the silence with words and advice and well-meaning platitudes. I so very much want to make things better, to take away the hurt and the bewilderment, to fix it all up. Instead, I probably end up being that person that Joe Bayly said he’d wished would go away. What a lesson in love to learn to sit, still, silent, and allow the hurting person to quietly lean into you. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • March 4, 2016 - 1:25 pm

      Vaneetha - I am too, Tam! So this post was a good reminder to me to just “sit, still, silent, and allow the hurting person to quietly lean into you.”ReplyCancel

  • March 4, 2016 - 11:30 am

    Georgia - Very true …the ministry of presence is oftentimes the greatest comfort we can give and receiveReplyCancel

  • March 4, 2016 - 12:54 pm

    Rani - Thanks Vaneetha for yet another heartfelt God breathed reality you just wrote about. My problem is I find myself like the first friend of author Bayle. But in the past few months God has been taking me through some pain which has caused me to learn some previous lessons the hard way. And that of course I see now has slowly but surely making me more like the friend who just knows how to “be” there for another.
    Yes God surely has placed us and me in a community,God forbid I ever come to a place of Independence! But to depend on Him and the people He has given me.
    Thanks sis,your writings are such a breath of fresh air!ReplyCancel

    • March 4, 2016 - 1:28 pm

      Vaneetha - I too am like Joe Bayly’s friend, and I’m thankful that God is slowly teaching me to listen and be silent more!ReplyCancel

  • March 4, 2016 - 4:37 pm

    Judy Johnson - Vaneetha, I have been a Lone Ranger in the Body of Christ for many years. Not something I planned. It just seemed to happen.
    In the last few months, the Holy Spirit has been breaking down the walls I had built against fellowship. I suddenly realized how hard it is for me to reach out for help of any kind. I have felt very alone and isolated. At the same time I have been drawn into the most intimate relationship with the Lord that I have ever known. He has caused me to become rooted and grounded in His love. He has shown me repeatedly that He is always with me and ready to communicate with me.
    Two days ago I was waiting alone while my husband was in surgery for the third time in a week. I was acutely aware of my need for
    someone to be with me. I felt the guilt that you wrote about and I talked with the Lord about it.
    A few min later I noticed a woman sit down in the waiting area and take out her bible. She leaned over it and began to read. I wanted to go to her but I resisted the prompting. After refusing the urge to just go talk to her, I finally decided to be obedient to that prompting. I walked over to her and introduced myself. I said ” Isaw you reading the Word and wanted to talk with you. ” She reached out with a big hug and began to encourage me. Later her son joined her. They treated me like family.

    God met my need for human companionship in such a tender way. He showed me that I do belong to His family. He showed me that He will always meet my needs if I allow Him to do so.

    You wrote so beautifully about our need for human companionship. Thank you.

    Judy JReplyCancel

    • March 7, 2016 - 4:50 pm

      Vaneetha - So thankful the Lord met you in such a tender way, Judy. He knows what we need.ReplyCancel

  • March 5, 2016 - 8:42 am

    Effie Darlene Barba - Beautiful as always. You write with such passion, truth and love. We were not meant to walk this road alone. Have you heard of Michele Cushatt and her current series called Undone Life Together? She has a facebook page where women are coming together to sometimes just listen through their trials. I think you could bring a lot of encouragement as well to the group. For me, I too am one who wants to rush in and “fix things.: As a part of this group, I am learning to listen better with simple responses of I am praying. The page is https://www.facebook.com/groups/undonelifetogether/ReplyCancel

    • March 7, 2016 - 4:52 pm

      Vaneetha - What a great idea. It is so encouraging to have others share our burdens with us. We so need the body of Christ!ReplyCancel

  • March 7, 2016 - 1:12 am

    KB - That’s often what I tell my patients’ families when they ask what they can do for their dying family member. Not entirely sure where I got it from, but really… “Just be there.”

    What an amazing insight about Jesus wanting his friends to be with him though! That really encourages me, because I have also often thought it “faintly unspiritual” to long for companionship.ReplyCancel

    • March 7, 2016 - 4:54 pm

      Vaneetha - Just be there. Great words for your patients’ families and for us… Its really that simple.ReplyCancel

  • March 7, 2016 - 4:37 pm

    Christina G. - Thank you for reminding me of truth, Vaneetha! I came to your blog today feeling all of those things that you mentioned. I’ve been craving to be comforted by the presence of friends. What you wrote really spoke to my heart and made me realize that it is okay to crave that community. It doesn’t make me weak, or needy, or sinful. Just human. Thank youReplyCancel

    • March 7, 2016 - 4:55 pm

      Vaneetha - God created us to live in community. How often I forget that!ReplyCancel

  • March 11, 2016 - 11:07 am

    Ellie - You can also go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, before the fall… “It is not good for man to be alone.” It is not sin in us that says that we shouldn’t be alone, it is part of us desiring for things to be made right again!!

    So thankful for your thoughts here today! They blessed me!ReplyCancel

  • March 16, 2016 - 1:30 pm

    Louise - Love the depths of your insights, Vaneetha!
    I am turned off by superficiality and always yearn for being closer to Creator Jesus than I am.
    I do not ask for comfort from others, even from family members.
    Due to a hang up I acquired through many years of experiencing cruelty.
    Yet, what always helps me in my pain and sorrow is to comfort someone else, even those who have been ugly.

    One of Creator`s toughest lessons for me to finally “get” was that it is not okay to treat other people based on how they treat me.

    This ministry of presence includes simply sharing with the hurting, regardless of who they are and how they behave, in the same manner Creator is sharing his very being with us.

    Once I stood at a mass grave in my home state where several family members of a woman I had only just met, were buried.
    I had no words of comfort for her in her excruciating pain.
    So I just held her while we cried together.ReplyCancel

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