Something was terribly wrong. George’s pained expression as he listened to his friend on the phone caused the rest of our group to fall into an anxious silence. George was one of a handful of Americans who were visiting the small East Asian city where my roommate and I taught English classes. My Asian team leaders were treating us all to a Western-style breakfast buffet when we were interrupted by a phone call for George.
Anguish & Loss
In obvious anguish, George hung up the phone, avoiding our concerned looks. Then, with great difficulty, he began telling us of his friend Ben, whose family has worked in a ministry in southeast Asia for about 30 years. Ben called because his son, a college student in the U.S., had just committed suicide.
My stomach churning, I poked at the eggs and fruit on my plate, sick with horror and numb with shock. The ticking of my watch pulsed in my ears. No one spoke.
Finally Sam, my Asian team leader, got up from his chair and walked over to stand behind George. Grabbing his shoulders, he squeezed them tightly, and then put his head on George’s head in a tender gesture of sympathy. Sitting down next to him, Sam gave George a cup of juice and encouraged him to take a sip. He placed a slice of bread in his hand, gently pushing it towards his mouth as if he were a toddler, trying to get him to eat. Suddenly Sam, though he’s younger than George, was assuming a fatherly role towards his suffering friend.
When Words Fail
These two men were from vastly different cultures and didn’t even speak the same language, but at this moment of intense grief, no words were necessary. Sam’s physical presence and acts of compassion were a greater comfort than any spoken assurances would have been.
Romans 12:15 says to “weep with those who weep.” Sometimes the best thing to do for a friend who has experienced loss is simply to be there. We may not know what to say or what to do, but we can listen and share the pain and anguish. Just as the Holy Spirit comforts us in our suffering, so we can be a comfort to others. When words aren’t enough, may we be the presence of Christ to those who are grieving.
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“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 will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” II Corinthians 1:3-4 (NAS)