Mourning with Those Who Mourn: COVID-19 Edition

I have been thinking about Job a lot lately. No surprise, really. I think about Job a lot. It’s kind of my schtick.

But I have been thinking specifically about Job’s Comforters–Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad–who spend most of the poem portion of Job saying stupid things to make themselves feel better about God. These men have become, collectively, a term for false friends–people who pretend to comfort you when all they really want to do is comfort themselves by telling you all the reasons that what happened to you won’t happen to them.

But they weren’t always this way. In the first part of the book–the “frame tale”–they act very differently:

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.

And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great. (Job 2:11-13)

They came to job “to mourn with him and to comfort him.” They “lifted up their voice and wept.” And then they sat with him for SEVEN DAYS AND SEVEN NIGHTS just sharing his grief and not saying a word. It was an amazing act of friendship and empathy for someone experiencing indescribable pain.

And then they started talking and ruined everything.

But even here the contrast is useful. Job’s comforters, when they actually were comforters, shared his pain and witnessed to his suffering. And they showed up. If the story had ended there (and there is a fair bit of evidence that the original version of the story did end there) they would have always been known as profoundly empathetic friends who ministered to the needs of their brother, even when there were no words to say.

This is how I am trying to remember the comforters today, this week, and during the time that much of the world is in quarantine because of the coronavirus. Because I come to this situation with boatloads of privilege: a job that can be done entirely from home, a large house where everybody has a private space, grown children who, though with us until the end of the crisis, can take care of their own needs, and enough Wi-Fi bandwith to run everybody’s devices all day long. And also, I am an introvert who likes being by myself.

But I know that I am in a tiny, very fortunate minority with most of these things. And I know that many, many people in my various communities are suffering. People that I know, love, and care about

  • Have contracted COVID-19 or are in groups with an elevated risk of contracting it with serious consequences.
  • Have lost their jobs, seen their retirement savings plummet, and face profound economic insecurity.
  • Have been separated from their churches, mosques, synagogues, and other spiritual support systems.
  • Have no access to pastoral care visits, counselling, or help of almost any kind.
  • Can no longer see or spend time with their parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, or other close friends and family members.
  • Have had to interrupt major life plans like getting married, buying a house, going to college, or starting a job.
  • Are trapped in homes with abusive family members with no way to access help.
  • Are living in a time of dread and anxiety with no good understanding of how it happened or when it will come to an end. 

These are just a few of the things that are producing pain and suffering among people I love. I don’t have any answers at all that can help anybody navigate through the minefield of bad choices and lesser evils that all of a sudden define our lives.

I don’t know why it’s happening. I don’t know when it will end. I don’t know how it can be made better. I don’t know why God lets it happen or why somebody didn’t stop it. I do not know what all the suffering “means,” and I certainly don’t think that any being–Supreme or otherwise–designed it to teach anybody lessons.

All I can do is acknowledge that it is hard–that what you are suffering is real and legitimate and important and that nobody else is suffering in quite the same way. The physical, spiritual, and economic damage of this plague do not “mean” anything. But, like anything else, they are phenomena that we can use to create our own meaning.

And this is the meaning that I want to create: we must find ways to mourn with each other–remotely, at safe distances, using technology that has only been available for the last twenty years or so–not because we can make it better, but because we can’t. As Latter-day Saints, we have covenanted to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We can use words to do this, but only when absolutely necessary. Otherwise they just ruin everything.

Comments

  1. Sitting. Grieving. Reaching out.
    Thank you.

  2. Even when speechless, you find the perfect words. Thank you for risking to mourn with us all.

  3. Terry H says:

    And, I’d recommend Michael’s Job book for reading during this time of isolation. It’s fabulous, as I’ve said many times on my program as well as elsewhere.

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