Egg Whites

There are situations in life that are a million sizes too big for me. I’m reminded of this every time I hear of a trauma—a death, an illness, etc.—that breaks the heart and numbs the mind. If I knew what to say to the hurting at such times, I’d say it. But rarely do I know what to say. Not so long ago when I knew it all, I always had something to say, no matter how stupid or inane. Like Peter, I would talk even when I didn’t know what I was talking about (Luke 9.33). I’ve finally come to learn that rather than saying something that might add to another’s anguish, it’s always best to be slow to speak.

In a single day, that good and great man Job lost it all: his children, his health, his wealth, marital support, and more. Three friends came to comfort him, and for a week they sat, saying nothing. It was the best thing they did, for when they started talking they only added to his misery. They gave him this advice and that advice, they scolded, they accused, they argued, they explained rather than encouraged, they listened with their ears but not with their hearts. They were worthless physicians, wrong in both their diagnosis and remedy (Job 13.4).  At one point in the back and forth, Job compared their pratings to egg whites: “what is more tasteless,” he asked, “than the white of an egg?” (Job 6.6).

Suffering can do strange things to people, especially the suffering that comes to those who haven’t broken the rules and who tried their best to keep the rules. At such times, the hurting say and do things they’d never say or do under normal circumstances. They ask questions for which they’re not seeking answers; they express doubt; they accuse God; they shrug their shoulders in a “What’s the use?” gesture. In all this, they’re not looking for a debate but for a friend who will let them vent their agony without being critical, who will help them stay on their feet through the ordeal.

Those who are drowning in sorrow should have the right to be spared our cheap clichés and empty banalities that do nothing to encourage their hope or strengthen their soul. I know we often feel like we should say something, but when we can come up with nothing more than: “It could have been worse”; “it can’t get any worse”; “it couldn’t be helped”; “it is God’s will”; and “if I can be of help, just give me a call,” we are offering what does not help.

Mark Rutherford said that on holidays, the boys in the little village of Cowfold, England, would hike three miles out to the main road just to see the sign that read, “To London.” That finger post, of course, wasn’t London, but to those boys who looked for a city greater than Cowfold, it was the next best thing.

When the time finally comes for us to say something to those in deep pain, we can’t give them heaven, but by speaking of the great and precious promises of glory, we can give them the next best thing. When they are able to hear us, let us remind them that the pain they are feeling cannot touch the best part of them, and that He who blessed them once will do so again—surely, words like these are not bland, insipid egg whites, but grace seasoned with salt.