I was a single mother at the time.
Someone dear to me was getting married. We’d known each other since childhood, but I wasn’t going to get to attend her wedding so I called to personally wish her well.
During the conversation, I said I’d like to get married, too.
“Oh, but you’ll probably have a lot more time to spend with God than I will,” she said.
The sweet woman was trying to be encouraging.
So I kept quiet.
How could I tell her that she was getting what I’d wanted for years?
And that I didn’t have one prospect on the horizon?
And that her words just left an even deeper ache in my soul?
Decades later, I was a widow whose pain seemed as deep and wide as an ocean.
Several well-meaning people tried to offer comforting words.
Then they’d say it:
“God will be your husband.”
At first — and for a long time — it was either excruciatingly painful or downright infuriating to hear those words.
How could I tell people it just wasn’t the same?
I’d lost a husband who’d physically held me and audibly spoken to me.
We’d had good marital relations.
I’d lost not only my husband, but the father of my children, my best human friend, my sounding board, the fix-it man; the car repair guy, my Friday night date, my movie buddy — and so much more.
He had my back. He was in my corner. He was on my side.
Other than God, nobody else knew more about me and still loved me than Chuck.
He tolerated my quirks. He’d finish my french fries. I’d finish his sentences.
Actually, we finished each other’s sentences.
We were a team.
And when he died, I was pain on two legs.
So how could people say God would be my husband?
How could I hug thin air?
Who would sit at my kitchen table and say: “Woman, thou worriest too much,” like Chuck?
Who’d grill me a hamburger or make me french toast?
I missed my flesh and blood husband so much.
Didn’t I love God?
I could see God working even in the midst of my pain. He brought so many people along to help me. He saved me from financial ruin and gave me glimmers of hope in the darkness.
So I was torn between being so hurt and angry about the “husband” statement and feeling guilty for having those feelings.
I didn’t want to offend God — making him sound like he was second-rate.
Or like the consolation prize on a game show.
Please understand that the folks who made the “husband” comment were trying to be helpful.
Several women who said this had suffered bad past experiences with men, who’d abused them or had been unfaithful.
Being told that God was their husband was very comforting to them.
Loving, Godly people — whom I love and admire — tried to help by making the “husband” comment.
So not wanting to offend anyone, I put off writing about this for years.
Then I went to a Sunday school class at Full Life Church. My pastor, the Rev. Mike Washburn, was leading a six-week study on the book of Job.
And the pastor used a term I’d never heard before:
This is truth said to the wrong people at the wrong time.
And it’s said even by people with good intentions.
We see it in the story of Job.
Many people know the story of this righteous man who owned hundreds of head of livestock and had 10 children.
But poor Job will lose all of his livestock and his children. Then he breaks out in sores from head to foot.
Three of Job’s friends try to comfort him.
At first, they do the right thing. They just sit with him and don’t say anything.
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Pastors call that the “Ministry of Presence.”
This type of ministry doesn’t offer advice. Instead these folks just listen, maybe offer a hug and probably say how very sorry they are.
Job’s friends do OK, until he bursts out — saying how he wishes he’d never been born.
Or even wishes he’d been stillborn.
Obviously, Job wasn’t thinking about how terrible that would have been for his poor parents.
But Pastor Mike says when we’re in pain our world shrinks to the size of our pain.
Anyway, I think Job’s outburst must have shocked his friends. I’ll bet he was a role model.
One of his friends, Eliphaz, even mentions how Job had always been the guy who encouraged everybody else.
Now that trouble has befallen him, Job doesn’t seem so patient.
In modern terms, Eliphaz seems to ask: “Where’s your faith?” “Don’t you take stock in the fact that you’ve always tried to do what’s right?”
“Practice what you preach.”
Wow. Talk about adding insult to injury.
But Job’s friends are in the dark.
Here was a guy who helped widows, orphans, the poor and people with disabilities.
Yet if Job was so good, why was all this bad stuff happening?
Job’s friends figure he must have done something wrong.
Eliphaz embarks on a long dialogue, saying how people who do bad stuff are going to suffer the consequences.
Another friend, Bildad, says if Job repents then God will restore him.
And a third, Zophar, tells Job to put iniquity far away and not let injustice dwell in his tents.
Funny thing, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were right.
People do suffer the consequences of doing evil — if not in this life, than certainly in the next.
At the same time, God forgives those who repent and can restore them.
And it’s certainly good to avoid sin and not tolerate injustice.
All these things are true.
There was just one problem.
Job hadn’t done anything wrong.
He was the subject of misapplied truth.
Anyone can say something that’s good, true and even Biblical.
But at the wrong time.
To the wrong person.
In the wrong situation.
And I’ve done it, too.
Years ago, I was interviewing a woman who knew some friends of mine.
“Oh, they just rave about you,” I gushed, figuring I’d paid her a wonderful compliment.
The woman didn’t say anything.
And when I told my friends what I’d said, they were really mad.
They didn’t like this woman at all.
When I thought about it, I couldn’t recall exactly what they’d said about this woman. I just thought they really liked everybody.
So I’d said something good — but to the wrong person.
Those who made the “husband” comment (who were a lot nicer than Job’s friends) were trying to say something good, too.
They probably were quoting from Isaiah 54:5 in the Old Testament.
Isaiah was prophesying about how God would restore the people of Judah who’d been carried off into captivity.
In the midst of this text, Isaiah writes: “For your Maker is your husband ... and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”
God is promising to take care of those folks — and us, too.
It’s a marvelous promise, but please be careful when sharing it.
My pastor has great advice. We must pray before we speak and ask the Holy Spirit to lead us.
I pray I don’t say things that hurt others or slip into using misapplied truth.
And I pray for continual forgiveness from God and others.
I’m still learning.