Good Comforting

I have heard all this before. What miserable comforters you are! Job 16:2 NLT

Regardless of where she went, she couldn’t find comfort.

Leah and her husband were never apart. They even volunteered at the same place after they retired. Both appeared to be in good health, so you can imagine Leah’s shock when her husband dropped dead. Jeff was outside cutting grass. He had no recent health concerns. But when Leah saw him stumble into the doorway and say he wasn’t feeling well, she could see something wasn’t right. Within a few minutes, he had slumped over, never to recover.

Although months had passed since Jeff’s death, Leah still mourned and suffered from anxiety and depression. She went to counselors, pastors, and friends, but nothing seemed to soothe her pain. She couldn’t focus and struggled to make it through each day. She left her old church, saying she just couldn’t stand to attend without Jeff. Leah longed for lasting comfort, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

Job didn’t find it with his fair-weather friends either. He had lost almost everything a person could lose and still survive. What’s worse, God permitted his woes to prove to Satan that Job would maintain his loyalty to God despite extreme adversity. The only comfort Job’s friends could muster was telling him he had sinned. Confess, and things would get better was their advice. Job, however, had nothing to confess. He maintained his innocence and muddled through his pain and sorrow.

Job’s friends did what is typical. They thought they had to say something to soothe his grief—and they did. But what they said didn’t do the trick nor was it biblically sound. Telling someone God needed another angel or that you know how they feel is hollow comforting. God doesn’t take life to get angels, nor do humans become angels after death. And no two people experience the same episode in the same way.

Presence in the midst of grief is better than words. Sharing truth from God’s Word can be comforting, but timing is critical. Sitting and listening and letting the person cry on your shoulder is better. When the time is right, they’ll ask, and then you can share words of wisdom they might need to hear. For the moment, silence is golden, and practical help is priceless.

Comforting those who grieve is tricky business. Before you speak or act, pray and ask God for direction and wisdom.


A Different Kind of Christmas

Christmases at my maternal grandparent’s home were different, but just as memorable.

My mother’s parents would have been considered upper middle class by modern standards. When my grandfather died, he had a sizable sum saved. At least it was sizable according to my standards of judging sizable. Checkbook balances never fell below $20,000. For me, that’s rich. I’ve never had that much saved nor have I ever come near having that amount in my checking account. Additionally, my grandfather owned several hundred acres of farmland and wooded areas.

But their lifestyles didn’t reflect the money they had or possessions they owned. My grandfather’s only farm implement was a small red tractor. What he couldn’t do with it, he paid someone else to do. Which was almost everything except plowing and planting. Their home was an old farmhouse with no central heat or air. Not until after my grandfather’s death did my grandmother install one lonely window unit in her kitchen. Neither ever owned a new vehicle while my grandfather was alive. Overhead lights consisted of one bulb dangling from a wire that drooped low enough for a pull cord to be reached for turning it on and off. Their furniture was modest except for a few finer pieces reserved for company and which were nestled in the “front room.” Professionals were never hired to make home repairs. Handymen—more handy than skilled–were called to mend broken items.

Just down the path—a short city block away–lived an aunt and uncle who parroted my grandparent’s example. They too saved most pennies they earned and spent very few, choosing a modest home and down-home living over what they could have enjoyed.

And it was to such an environment that we made our way on Christmas day. The experience was quite different from what I was accustomed to at my father’s parent’s home. Rather than bulging with presents, the tree stood almost alone with just a few gifts snuggled underneath. While I opened presents with great anticipation at my other grandparent’s home, I wasn’t as eager to do so here. These presents didn’t even compare. Experience had proven it. Some of them were used, and others were items a young child had no use for. I often wondered whether they even put any thought into what they gave or just gave because they were expected to. When my parents added these to those already received at the other grandparent’s home, the difference was virtually imperceptible. While I enjoyed the food and getting to see my relatives, the presents didn’t tweak the enthusiasm of a young lad with a less than proper understanding of Christmas.

Yet the disappointing presents were overshadowed by elements I sometimes didn’t discover when spending Christmas with my other grandparents. Sure we had a feast of food there, but it wasn’t the same as here. This grandmother spent her entire day in the kitchen, and Christmas was no exception. She continued cooking and serving while everyone else ate—occasionally not even sitting down until everyone was stuffed and sleepy. And their mindset about presents was starkly different. They seemed to know there were more important things to experience than giving and receiving gifts that may have been purchased with little thought and would be used only for a brief time.

Togetherness was more important to these grandparents. I labeled them stingy—and perhaps they were–but then again possibly they knew something I hadn’t ascertained yet. What they gave me was never what I hoped for, but perhaps it was more important than what they could have afforded to buy. And they certainly wouldn’t have had to go into debt like my other grandmother.

Our meals and gift opening were often preceded or followed by the men and boys trekking through our grandfather’s wooded land on hunting expeditions. Deer, squirrel, rabbit, quail, dove. It didn’t matter. We hunted it all, bringing back the smaller quarry and escorting them to a small area of the floor next to the lone gas heater standing guard over the kitchen area.

Though I was sometimes disappointed with this different kind of Christmas, in many ways it was more important than others I experienced elsewhere. Many religionists were disappointed with God’s gift and his view of Christmas too. So poor were Jesus’ parents that a manger was his first home and strips of cloth his first garment. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. (Luke 2:7 NLT) No fanfare over his birth. No parades. No welcoming gifts. No heralding bugles. Just a dark damp stable and a few shepherd visitors.

Numerous people rejected God’s Messiah simply because He didn’t fulfill their expectations. He didn’t blow in on a white horse, nor did He conquer the Jew’s enemies who ruled them ferociously. Rather, He was a humble man from an insignificant town. He grew up learning the carpenter trade and let those His people hated so much insult and eventually crucify Him.

No doubt, Jesus was a different kind of Messiah who arrived on a different type of Christmas, and because of it, many chose not to believe in Him or accept His offer of salvation. But He was God’s kind of Christmas gift. Not wrapped in beautiful bows and fancy paper, but a Savior nevertheless. The type of gift that gives presently and eternally.

The Christmas Gift

His eyes welled with tears as he opened the envelope. The gift was the most unselfish act he’d ever witnessed.

Harry* was about to experience the most agonizing Christmas of his life. A few months before, he had taken out a consolidation loan. The loan seemed like the right approach to his family’s financial situation. With a lower interest rate than he currently paid to his separate creditors, this loan would let him pay them off quicker. So with his wife’s blessing, he signed the paperwork and began paying the monthly payment.

Life seemed good for Harry. His job was rewarding, secure, and paid an honorable salary—enough for his family to live on comfortably. He planned to keep doing what he enjoyed for many years to come. But life changed suddenly. He noticed his wife changing. She associated with a different set of friends, worked longer hours, frequented places she shouldn’t, and became more distant in the process.

Harry was concerned but never imagined he’d hear, “I don’t love you anymore.” Topping this off came the news she’d had an affair. What seemed like a safe and cozy world shattered into a million pieces. He couldn’t form a thought. His mind raced in hundreds of directions. Anger mixed with sadness. A thousand questions entered and exited his mind before he could answer them.

Failed attempts at reconciliation eventually led to their separation and divorce. Harry was left with two teenage children and bills he couldn’t pay. Not only had his wife walked away from him, but she had also walked away from their mutual responsibilities. His family disintegration also led to the loss of his once-secure job.

The only employment available to him paid a mere pittance of what he once earned. Bills lagged further behind, one of which was the consolidation loan he had taken out just months before the bad news broke. He struggled to make the payment, but he knew the day was rapidly approaching when he wouldn’t find the funds anymore.

December arrived and with it the prospect of meager presents, mounting bills, and one that would go unpaid—his consolidation loan. In spite of his depressed mood, Harry agreed to continue his traditional Christmas celebration with his parents, siblings, and their families.

For a number of years, the family had made a practice of sitting in a circle, having the grandchildren pass out presents, and then opening them one by one for the others to adore. Everyone understood why Harry didn’t have any gifts to share this year, but the pile lying at his feet was monumental nevertheless. One was a simple white envelope that read, “To Dad, from ______.”

Harry’s curiosity prompted him to open the envelope first, but his daughter warned him this present was the last one he could open. Reluctantly, he opened his other presents one by one, but the enjoyment he would have normally got from opening them was trumped by his anticipation over what was in the envelope.

Finally, only the envelope remained. Carefully, he tore through the scotch tape that held it securely shut. As he carefully ran his fingers into the envelope and extracted the contents, a bundle of money fell into his lap. He counted it and discovered the exact amount needed to make his loan payment. His teenage daughter who worked three part-time jobs while attending high school had saved enough to help him do what he couldn’t have done otherwise. Never before had he received a gift like this one.

But Harry’s daughter’s gift—as unselfish as it was—pales in comparison to a greater gift given more than 2,000 years ago. Angels announced this offering to shepherds living in the fields. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David (Luke 2:9-11 NLT)!

Harry reluctantly accepted his daughter’s gift, even though he needed it desperately. She had worked so hard for this money and could have used it to purchase things she wanted. But he honored her unselfishness by slipping it into his pocket and giving her a big hug followed by an “I love you.”

God gave an extremely unselfish gift as well. He gave it with no strings attached. All we must do is willingly accept it, slip it into our hearts, and he’ll do the rest by letting the results of our acceptance change our lives and the lives of others.

*Name changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

Wondering Why

And Moses said to the Lord, “Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly?
Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people?

Numbers 11:11 NLT

Wondering why often leaves us wondering.

I sat in the car with my daughter’s two children while my wife underwent a physical test. The three-year-old sat in the front seat with me biding his time and asking questions.

“Pop, what is this,” he asked, pointing to one knob on the radio.

“It turns the radio on and makes it louder,” I said, trying to focus on what I was doing.

“Why,” was the next question.

“I don’t know. It just does.”

“What about this button,” he asked as he pointed to a button beside the first knob.

I finally told him all the buttons in that general area worked the radio. My answer still didn’t’ satisfy him.

“Why?” he asked.

After playing this game for every piece associated with the dashboard and exterior mirrors, I finally said, “Pop’s tired of answering questions. I need to work.” He stopped asking questions.

I’m glad he has entered the inquisitive stage and wants to know things. But he’s soon finding out I don’t have an answer for everything he asks, and I do eventually tire of answering his “why” inquiries.

Moses wondered why in the world God had saddled him with caring for more than a million people. People who complained most of the time, who couldn’t get along, who had a tendency to rebel against God, and who on occasion threatened to kill him. God answered his why questions by giving him some help. God wanted those people in the Promised Land, and Moses was the person he chose to lead them there. He didn’t need to know why; he just needed to obey.

God’s ways and will are often a mystery He chooses not to solve in our presence. Perhaps in heaven, He’ll answer some of our “why” questions—but He might not. There is nothing wrong with asking God why, but we must be prepared to experience silence. While God never tires of us asking why, He doesn’t want our why’s to come from disbelief or discouragement but from a desire for more understanding—like Moses.

Don’t be afraid to ask God why, but be prepared to be kept in suspense. Following His will is a faith journey with many unanswered why’s.