Friends In Darkness

 Job was this old geezer – two thousand years before the birth of Christ – who had lost his home and his wealth and his children, and he was covered in sores from head to foot, suppurating boils, so inflamed and aggravating that the only way he could get any relief  was by scraping at them with a sharp edge of pottery. Cripes! No one wanted to know him. He, quite literally, stank. 

No one’s life, I hope, is as bad as that. None of you reading this are quite that low, anyway. Indeed some of you are positively ridiculously blessed and privileged. I know some couples in their fifties who have never lost a child or a partner or a parent, have never had to battle with a disease or depression and are in comfortable employment, thank you very much. The worst they’ve known was a sense of ‘what’ll-we-do-now?’  These lucky souls are all married and so have each other, and the life they choose. But, you know what? Some of them think they are qualified to give comfort to those who have lost partners, children, peace and security. What a nerve! They are the very ones who will throw a Patience Strong phrase at your head, or  (please, God, help me to forgive them) a whole bunch of Bible verses, or – even worse – trot out some bloody stupid psychology mantra. Grrr.

Anyway, back to Job. He was as low as he could go, and then his friends bowled up – and surprise! surprise! it just got a whole lot worse.  His pals just overflowed, with good advice. They said all the right things, at great  length, so right-on and clichèd that Job stopped shouting at God and turned his venomous bloodshot eyes on them:

“I’ve had all I can take of your talk.
    What a bunch of miserable comforters!
Is there no end to your windbag speeches?
    What’s your problem that you go on and on like this?
If you were in my shoes,
    I could talk just like you.
I could put together a terrific harangue
    and really let you have it.
But I’d never do that. I’d console and comfort,
    make things better, not worse!”

That’s the Message interpretation of Job 16

The great thing about the book of Job is that God honoured Job’s anger and bitterness, because it was honest. God values honesty. Society tends not to. Even in the Christian community there’s a move to say the ‘right’ things always, always giving praise and encouragement, claiming unalloyed joy.  You know, my little bloggettes, if you can’t say something nice and be honest, you don’t have to lie and say something nice and dishonest, you can just extend the hand of friendship and listen. You can be honest enough to say ‘What you’re going through is lousy.’ You don’t have to pretend that everyone has a charmed life if only they could find the faith for it – sometimes we have lives that are blighted over and over again by death or illness or need. And sometimes the wisest counsel is silence.

Some think that they will show empathy by claiming  a shared experience – or even by topping it. Hey – I’ve just remembered something that made me hoot with laughter-cum-disbelief.  I was asked if I ever felt lonely. I said yes, isolated and irrelevant and although  these times are mercifully brief and fleeting,  when they hit they hit hard. The woman I was talking to said “Oh, I know, Cuthbert was out all day on Tuesday and I got really depressed.” Hah! ‘All day Tuesday.’ ( OK,  his name has been changed to protect the innocent) She didn’t have to say that, it didn’t help. It minimised and dismissed and revealed just how superficial her interest was.

Words are cheap and empty. Don’t tell a lonely person that you suffer too, or you suffer worse, or that they don’t really suffer, or that you understand something about their situation that they haven’t quite grasped. And don’t say you’ll pray for them and then walk away.  If they’re isolated, spend time with them. If they’re house-bound invite them to join you when you go to the pub, or out for the day. Even if you’re married! You know what? The fact that you’re married, smugly happy, and comfortable in each other’s company, does not excuse you from inviting others to join you! And it’s not just the house-bound, do you know how hard it is to go to somewhere new or busy when you must always go alone? Do you know how easy it is to be isolated in the middle of a busy community?

A retired cop told me that since his wife died seven years ago, he’s been invited to join a married couple on a trip out…. not even once. He used to love a stroll around a new town, exploring, sitting in the sun with a pint watching the people pass (his favourite town was Tenby) but he hasn’t been to Tenby since his wife died. His friends still go there, and tell him about it, about the new gallery, about the new coffee bars….  but they travel in twos and fours, never in threes. He’s not a church goer, although his wife was, and these people are all Christians who all, apparently, pray for him. No wonder he’s not impressed. I’m going to say something really really BAD now. Something that would have a thousand Pastors tutting over their Bibles. I am going to say ‘Stop praying for him and do something instead.’ When I was invited to join a married couple in a local pub one time, it was just great! There had been no ‘arrangement’, no ‘let’s gather together all the sad old widows we know’ , no do-goodery involved at all. Just a married couple thought ‘Luce lives round the corner, let’s ask her to join us’. Man, it’s rare. And much as I love prayer, I quite like a shandy too. I would love to think of that retired cop sitting with his friends in the sun, sipping his beer and watching the passing holiday makers.

To go with a group of singles isn’t much of a solution, take my situation for example: most single people are my age, and I don’t always want to be in a group of people of one age, one gender, one situation. It doesn’t lead to lively conversation, to new ideas and discoveries. We have an ageing population where one partner can outlive the other by 30 or 40 years, and loneliness is becoming an epidemic.

I don’t know what the answer is. And somehow I’ve wandered off the subject of Job and his boils and his awful finger-wagging chums. Sorry.

To get back to Job and the advice they heaped on his poor bowed head: A friend has told me about something he calls ‘friends in darkness’. This man has lost a son, and his grief is part of him. When it becomes overwhelming, he has two or three friends he can call, at any time of the day or night, and say simply ‘I’m in darkness.’ He knows that they won’t try to cure his grief, because it can’t be cured, they won’t give him advice, or say wise words, they won’t tell him to cheer up, or that the darkest hour is just before dawn (it isn’t!) they will simply say ‘Talk to me.’ and then, miles apart, two beating hearts are joined and he is no longer alone.

I love the idea of Friends In Darkness. It’s like the Samaritans but with people you know. I think it may be a ministry we could benefit from. What do you think? Shall I start a Friends In Darkness group here in West Wales? It won’t get us singletons out to Tenby, or down the pub, but it might make a few long nights less painful.

Friends In Darkness – what do you think? Shall I start it? 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Friends In Darkness

  1. Yes you should start it Luce. There must be so many people who feel like this but cannot express it nearly so well as has been gifted to you. My friend who lost a baby got used to people crossing the road when they saw her. She “didn’t blame them” because she said, “They just don’t know what to say.” So I think fear of saying the wrong thing sometimes cripples people. Yes you should start it. Love Em xxxxx ps I wish we lived nearer. pps on a lighter note when I started to read this I thought you were talking about a script you’d done!! So reading “Job” as “job” I thought you were going to say, “Job was – an old geezer moves next door to a woman he doesn’t know very well…..” etc etc and go on to detail a 2 part Lucy Gannon drama plot!!! Laffin!!! Though my plot there look is instantly quite dull. Yours wouldn’t be. Yours would be, “An old geezer is covered in stinking sores from head to foot…..” Like Job. Which makes me wonder if Job shouldn’t be a job like Judas. It’s v interesting. I didn’t know about him. xxxxxx

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  2. Also meant to say – you know when someone is really listening to you. When the parish priest at St Wilfrid’s in York retired, a long line of people stood four deep in the rain, queueing for 2 hours to go inside and shake his hand for a brief minute. I was one of those people despite being (very) lapsed because he….was what I would call a “proper priest.” He made you feel in a way that…there was someone on earth with whom the buck stopped when the chips were down and he was prepared to be that person for everyone. He was prepared to be a spiritual cushion between God and the person and the worst that can happen in life. Or the best. He didn’t shy away from it. He could manage to somehow give you his full attention when he spoke to you. Or rather when he didn’t speak. He listened. He was an old man and must have been standing shaking people’s hands for 2 hours by the time I had snaked my way round to see him that November night. People don’t stand in the rain for 2 hours just to shake someone’s hand normally do they? So other people must have felt like me. And tired as he must have been he still fixed me with his full gaze and said, “Yes of course I remember you.” And I knew he did and he wasn’t “just saying it.” And I don’t know how he did it. How he managed in a split second to make me feel….worth his attention. So yes, you should start the Friends in Darkness. We all need them. That’s my vote. E xxxx

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    1. ‘Which makes me wonder if Job shouldn’t be a job like Judas.’ Ha ha!
      But “He was prepared to be a spiritual cushion between God and the person and the worst that can happen in life.” We don’t need anyone to stand between us and God. That’s the whole point of the death of Jesus Christ. We are the new priesthood, we can come before him with no guilt, shame or fear, just love and adoration. He made that possible. That’s the good news.
      Your old priest sounds lovely though. Just lovely. We have an old priest, a Canon, in the town and when I delivered meals on wheels to him he asked my name and snorted “Lucy Gannon! And what’s a good Catholic girl like you doing in a Baptist church?” He knew immediately that I had been brought up in an Irish Catholic family and I loved him for that recognition. It was a bit like coming home.
      I’m glad to have left the doctrines and dogma of the Catholic Church and to have stepped into freedom but I have a great affection for the wit and life and warmth and humour of the Catholic Church. The other side of the divide is not as honest, warm and rich as you old Papists! And I miss the beautiful ritual of Benediction, although I could go on for hours and bleeding’ hours about the erroneous theology!
      Me and Brenda should get together sometime. A bottle of Bristol Cream, a few treats to munch on, and a long talkey night.
      Be great!

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      1. “Me and Brenda should get together sometime” is the understatement of the decade mate!!! Yes – cushion is the wrong word. What I meant is friends in darkness really – as a priest he really had that gift. Not just confined to priests obv. Remember a couple of years ago that Portsmouth GP who retired? They queued all day to shake his hand. He was stunned by it. By 7am there were hundreds of his patients outside the surgery waiting to see him on his last day. I therefore take it the bloke must have been a pretty good listener! Love to you Loops xxxx

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