"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."- 1 Thessalonians 5:11
A couple weeks ago I wrote about Ray, an old man dear to me and my mother who was dying. He has since passed peacefully. After he passed, my mom told me she was going to spend the next few days in his chair. It was the La-Z-Boy he sat in everyday that he bought himself less than a year ago. It’s very comfortable. More importantly, I think my mom finds it comforting to sit there because it was Ray’s.
When we’re sad, distressed, or discouraged, we need comfort. Comfort comes in many different forms, but when I used to be depressed I was always acutely aware that as a Christian I should be seeking comfort in God.
I believed this because of verses such as 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our trials so that we may be able to comfort others in any sort of trial with the comfort that we receive from God.”
As well as, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
There are tons of others that describe God as the one who provides comfort in our times of trial, yet I’ve always wondered how that comfort is accessible. From my own experience, I’ve always experienced the most comfort when there is a person listening to me or giving me a hug. I need someone to physically be present, which I believe is the case with most, if not all, human beings. This physicality can be found in other people, or even objects such as children’s safety blankets, or in my mom’s case, an old man’s chair.
How can God give us this comfort when He is not physically with us? In searching for the answer to this question, I first explored what comfort is and how we typically receive it.
Jason Inman in his article, “4 Ways to Find Comfort in God, Despite Pain,” gives a very good historical context for the word comfort and how we’ve come to know it today. The word comfort comes from the Latin parts com, meaning “together with” and fortis, meaning “strong or strength.” Together it is “together-strength,” or the way I like to see it, “strength found in being with others.”
The word would change a few more times, with its later Latin word confortare meaning “to strengthen much.” The Old French word conforter brought “solace” and “help” to the definition. Then in the 14th century, the French word conforten is “to cheer up, console.” Which brings us to the 17th century and the word and definition we have today, which “implies the sense of physical ease that we understand today.” Inman states that comfort started as “together-strength” but has come to mean “pain-barrier.”
I like both definitions, because comfort can mean that through strength in others we are barred from pain. It’s a beautiful way to see comfort. This definition implies that we cannot be comforted by ourselves. Whether we’re looking at the original definition or the one we’ve come to know, other people are necessary contributors to strengthen us or help us feel better when we’re down.
But how do other people make us stronger? Brené Brown would probably say by entering into our pain. In her Ted Talk “On Empathy,” she explains what we need, and what we don’t need, when we are low. She explains how someone else’s empathy makes us feel better because “empathy is feeling with people.” It’s trying to understand their pain and situation and to sit with them through it. Not from a distance, not trying to cheer them up, but to be sad with them. She explains, “Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”
A great example of what this looks like in the Bible is in the story of Job. Job was a righteous man loved and blessed greatly by God. He had a lot of wealth, a lot of children, and lived a life that brought God much happiness. The story goes that one day Satan challenged God about Job. God tells Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8).
Satan replies, “Does Job fear God for nothing?... You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11).
So then God lets Satan afflict Job. All of his children are killed, his livestock is stolen or killed, and many of his servants were put to death. He loses his family and his wealth, and when he still does not curse God, his own body becomes afflicted with painful sores all over his body. He is now at his lowest, a broken man.
My favorite part of the story is how his friends react to his situation at first:
“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:11-13)
Of course, after this they go on to criticize him saying he must’ve done something to deserve God’s punishment, but initially they did the right thing. They comforted their friend in his time of suffering. Further, they suffered with him. They wept and tore their clothes. They sat with him for seven days without talking. Simply, they were present with him.
In my own life, I know how powerful it is to have someone present with you when you are at your lowest with no hope of recovery. One of the most memorable things one of my best friends did for me while I was depressed was be there. One day I had called her crying, and she said she would go over to my house right away. I told her I wasn’t home and wouldn’t be home for at least an hour. When I got home, she was already there waiting for me.
She later told me that she didn’t know how to help me when I was depressed. She didn’t know what to do or say. But the fact that she had been waiting for me to get home, that there was a loving face there to greet me, was all I needed. She was the friend who sat silently sad with me during times when there was nothing to say.
People bring us comfort, but what about God? How can He comfort us? Sometimes I feel like for the Christians who are better at being a Christian than me, they feel His presence and are comforted by that. But I don’t have that. In fact, I can say I’ve only truly felt Him one time in my life and He did comfort me.
In high school, my junior year was a rough one. I had lost access to all the people in my life who made me feel loved, and I was living with my two uncles who were often cold. I knew they loved me, but they weren’t exactly the comforting type. One night after a horrible practice where all I wanted was to go home and talk to my mom about it, I realized that wasn’t a possibility. I came home to my uncle’s house instead and went straight to my room to cry. I knew there were people who loved me, but I didn’t feel it. No one was available to physically bring me comfort, to talk to me, to hold me, to listen.
It was at this point that I was praying to God about not feeling loved that I had a vision of a rainbow with Autumn leaves falling down. I felt washed with what I can now say is the Holy Spirit. It’s the only time I’m sure God spoke to me. He said, “I have loved you since before your parents even knew you existed. I love you now. And I will always love you.” After that I felt a peace I had never known before. I felt comforted.
To be completely truthful though, I now wonder where that feeling was every time since then I’ve needed God’s comfort. I’ve only experienced it that one time. I’m not sure if it never appeared again because my need wasn’t as great or because I was simply more distant from God. I’m not sure, but the Holy Spirit has never comforted me in that way ever since.
In the article, “How God Offers Comfort,” it says there are four methods God comforts people – the Bible, the Holy Spirit, prayer, and fellow Christians (which I’m just going to change to people in general).
I’m not the kind of person who has ever found comfort in the Bible, but I know others who have. I believe some women in my church group have, and I know my mom was comforted through scripture in her lowest moment, even though she is a woman who never willingly reads the Bible and does not declare herself a Christian.
Since I am a Christian, I do like to believe that our God is the “God of all comfort” as it says in 2 Corinthians. I can’t personally attest that He does this all the time or every time we ask, but the one thing I do believe is that the way he sends us comfort the most is through bringing other people to us. He created us for connections and relationships, with Him and with others. I believe the best thing we can do in our lives is touch the lives of others.
That’s why I like the full context of these verses:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
So is God enough when we need comfort? I think He sends us enough.
4 Ways to Find Comfort in God, Despite Pain
Brene Brown on Empathy
How God Offers Comfort