Tuesday, June 26, 2018

True Friends

Job certainly shuts his friends up with his persistence about his own righteousness, not even taking the time to acknowledge that he has heard what they have had to say or even that they have said some very true things about God's character. Finally, they tell him they're done - they're done trying to talk to him because he's so arrogant and so sure that he's right about everything.

But it's what Job's friends do next that really drives home the point of just how good of friends they truly are: they stick around.

Most human beings would be offended here. Most would think they are wasting their time. If their friend isn't going to listen to what they have to say, if it does them no good to try to talk to him, if they are failing at the one thing they are trying to do and he's basically pushing them away, most persons - even most friends - would walk away. They would leave Job in his dust and ashes, turn their backs, and go. 

Not Job's friends. They stay. They keep their bottoms planted firmly in the dust and ashes with him and continue listening to what he has to say, even though he's stopped listening to them. They continue to mourn with him. They continue to let him ruminate and ponder and fume. And they stay. 

It's a lesson for those of us who both have true friends and want to be true friends. 

When we want to be true friends, we have to remember that it's about more than us. It's actually not about us at all. Job is the one hurting here. Job is the one who is acting out of his deepest pain. Job is the one who needs comforted. Though we may feel slighted, or worse, we cannot let the emphasis of our friends' troubles shift from their troubles to our egos. If they aren't ready to listen, then we listen. If they aren't ready to move, then we don't move. If they're not ready to leave, then we stay. This is what true friends do. 

And it's an important lesson for those of us who have true friends because it's far too easy for us to forget who our true friends are. In our hurt, we spend so much of our energies pushing everyone away or, at the very least, shutting everyone up. We don't want to listen to even their wisest counsel; we want to wallow for a bit. We want to be able to enter fully into our own circumstances, into our own pain, and express it from the depths of our souls. We don't want to be lectured. We may not even want to be comforted. 

But despite how much effort we put into pushing others away, we also, most often, don't want to be alone. 

True friends are the ones who stay when they know that you need them to stay, even if you're treating them like garbage or insisting you don't need them. True friends know you do, and they're willing to tough it out with you...for you. Too often, once the dust has settled and the ashes have scattered, most of us forget to look around and see who's still there with us. We forget to look up and look into their eyes and know how much they care for us. We forget to care for them.

A beautiful thing happens at the end of the Job story, with these friends of his that stayed - Job offers sacrifices for them. He atones for them, even after they've really cheesed each other off. They stayed, they listened, they heard the Lord speak and witnessed Job's redemption and then Job, the same arrogant-sounding, too-sure-of-himself Job that they stopped speaking to just a few chapters earlier, offers sacrifices to atone for them before the Lord. Because wrong as they may have been, they were also present, and they get to be part of this beautiful reestablishment, this glorious renewal. And they, too, are being made new, even in their friendship. 

Who among us would think of atoning for our friends, for the ones who stayed? Who among us would stay and be atoned for? At a time when the whole world is falling apart, when life is crashing down in crumbles, when our eyes are filled with tears both from sadness and from the barren dust, who among us...?

True friends, that's who. May we all be so blessed as to have a few. 

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