Note: This is entry 2 in a study guide series called “Four Seasons of Healing: A Pathway for Those Living with Chronic Illness.” For a list of entries click here.
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.
In a winter of the soul the psalmist asks the Lord in despair, “Will you forget me forever?” Questions stirred from this winter season range from “why me?” to “how long?” He feels the depth of his pain even
Loneliness is a constant companion in the winter of chronic illness—even in the presence of others. I read one statistic from the World Psoriasis Happiness Report 2017 that saddened me: Only about 40%of both women and men agree that their closest friends and family understand what it is like to deal with psoriasis. I wasn’t surprised, though. My own sense of isolation during my formative years confirmed what the almost three out of every four people surveyed. I mostly felt alone with psoriasis in my own home.
Job from the Bible felt a depth of pain that no other, not even his friends or wife, could truly comprehend. His loneliness stemmed from the dire situation of losing all his property and children while sustaining boils over his entire body. In response to his devastating circumstances, his wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). His friends felt so overwhelmed by what they saw that they sat in silence with Job with nothing to say. Their presence only heightened Job’s sense of loneliness.
It’s natural to feel alone in difficult moments as each person’s experience is unique. However, walking through the “darkest valley” (Psalm 23:3) while feeling abandoned and isolated leads to an even greater despair. Knowing that God is “my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1) turns loneliness into solitude with God and leads to places of restoration and renewal.
Share one way you, or someone you know, has endured something unpleasant or painful over an extended period of time. What questions, if any, were raised in that situation?
- Are you surprised that only 40% of people with psoriasis surveyed felt like a family member or close friend understands their experience living with it? Why or why not?
- Compare and contrast the experience of loneliness and solitude. What are key emotions associated with each?
For Further Thought
In Job’s account heaven’s veil is pulled back for a moment to reveal a conversation between God and Satan. Start by discussing observations, first impressions, or questions you have about the first two chapters of this ancient biblical text.
- Try to imagine the emotions and sense of loss Job might have felt in those days subsequent to losing his children and properties. How could Job feel all alone in his suffering even with his wife and friends around him?
- Many times, people ask “why” when a tragedy or disappointment arises. If you were Job, which “why” questions would you ask God? How would you answer someone who asks “why” bad things happen to good people?
- Recount a time in your life where you felt a depth of loneliness similar to Job’s, including isolation from God. What words best describe your experience?
- What are some ways you have seen those in a faith community respond to someone who is undergoing a deep personal tragedy, illness, or struggle? What have they done well, and what could be improved?
Close in Prayer
Prayerfully read Philippians 4:6-7:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Share your petitions and thanksgiving to God. Spend a few moments in silence as you wait for Him to pour out the peace that passes all understanding into our hearts and minds.