In the same way that our advice may be premature, so also may our reassurance. In our efforts to assuage the suffering of our loved one or friend, we reach out by offering hope of a better future. Because we can’t stand our helplessness we try to lift their depression.
Just as giving advice can communicate that we don’t understand the depth of their emotional pain, the magnitude or significance of their loss, or how they feel, so can our reassurance. It can communicate: “I don’t want to hear any more of your suffering.” Sometimes that’s true–we do find it hard to bear. But we risk shutting off communication. That may increase our friend or love-one’s sense of isolation. We’re telling them to keep their deepest suffering to themselves.
At the end of his first efforts at comfort, Job’s colleague Bildad reassures Job of a happier future. “[God] will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy,” he says (8:21). This is not his only blunder in this chapter, but it is one we also make. He demonstrates he doesn’t want to hear any more of Job’s pain. He and the others already sat through hearing Job’s desire to die. He’s heard enough and, like the others, unloads all of his traditional wisdom strategies in order to “answer” Job.
Have you experienced a loss where a loved one tried to provide you with reassurance you found premature? Have you offered others reassurance at a point where your friend stopped talking? or changed the subject? How did you both resolve the impasse?