My friend Wade is the middle son of nine children. Recently, his mother died after a period of illness. In the decades before her death, Wade's mother had left Kentucky and returned to her home state of Michigan. Before passing, she bequeathed that Wade, who still lives in eastern Kentucky, would be responsible for the dispersion of her belongings, after her death.
Wade is not a chatty man. Sometimes he only says a few sentences and they contain a lot of information. He went up to Michigan to visit his mom before her death, returned after the death, and then spent more days there on another trip as he fulfilled his mother's request related to her property and possessions.
I called to express condolences and to hope that the auction had been as manageable as possible. I began the difficult conversation with "I am glad that you have finished your responsibilities with the auction. Did you and your brothers and sisters get finished with everything?" He replied, "Yeah, we divided up her quilts and her Bibles, most of the auction things sold real cheap." Did you catch that phrase, "We divided up her quilts and her Bibles"? That was a legacy statement. What had been important in Wade's mother's life is important to her children. The hand-made quilts and the worn Bibles represented her love and her character to the adult middle-aged children. She left her children with the work of her hands and the faith of her soul.
I don't think that Wade's mom ever became a famous person or that her story or that the challenges and triumphs of her life were recorded anywhere. Today, I am thinking about short character sketches and the power of legacy that can be captured in a few words.
One of the people in the Bible who has always peaked my attention is Mrs. Job. I have always wondered about this person for whom we get a glimpse in the book of Job. The whole narrative of that book is about Job, and he certainly deserves our attention and respect. Very little, almost nothing to be exact, is written about his spouse.
I reviewed commentaries related to Mrs. Job and the possibilities for the void of detail related to this woman. Some of the scholars were comfortable with shallow knowledge and unresolved mysteries about this minor character. Others were holistically harsh and condemning of Mrs. Job because of the one statement quote, appearing in the narrative. I do not find my own perspective of honest inquiry in alignment with either this former or later perspective.
Mrs. Job was a spouse who suffered the same losses and calamities that fell upon her husband. When Job lost his camels, Mrs. Job lost her camels. When Job lost his servants, Mrs. Job lost her servants. When Job lost his social standing, Mrs. Job lost her social standing. When Job lost all of his children, Mrs. Job lost all of her children.
Bonk! Did you hear the hammer hit the coffin nails in that last sentence? The death of one child is enough to break the heart of any mother. Let us give Mrs. Job some grace. She lost all of her children in one colossal disaster.
Then, after the funeral, there were the foreclosures, the gossip, the medical diagnosis and the judgmental visits by Job's friends. By the way, I would also like to interject a question related to hospitality services. Please recall that the book of Job is an ancient writing. When you and I read about Job's friends coming for an extended visit, the domestic hostess in all of us has to ask, "Where are they sleeping? Who is drawing the water? Who is cooking and cleaning and serving the food to the grumbling lot?" We all recognize that the answer is probably Mrs. Job. Whatever compromised accommodations that Job and his wife had been reduced to were now shared by the uninvited "friends" who came for an extended visit.
From my Southern Appalachian perspective, I see Mrs. Job adding more water to the sweet tea. She picks tiny stones out of her dwindling reserve of dried beans and tries to make the rice stretch extra far. Aside from the burden of extra work during her time of profound personal grief, she listens to the lengthy condemnation and "counsel" of Job's visitors. After the men leave from their overextended visit, I think that I see her quietly walking back into the kitchen as she silently sobs into her apron.
"Curse God, and die" are the only words that most of us associate with an unconsidered, deplorable opinion of Mrs. Job. The full verse actually reads as follows and only seems to solidify our scantly informed character profile:
"Then said his wife unto him, 'Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God, and die.'" (Job 2:9)
So for a minute, I want to ask us all to suspend our judgment and preconceived opinions of Mrs. Job. The suspension invites some reflection on the following points:
1. The testimony of her presence. Mrs. Job showed compassion and commitment in remaining present during Job's pain. Sometimes it is very hard to be present when another person, especially someone that we love, is hurting. Mrs. Job did not leave town; she didn't abandon Job during the darkest hours of their lives.
2. The brevity and timing of her words shows self-control. Mrs. Job didn't chime in or interrupt with the long litanies of the friends. The visitors each went on and on for paragraphs. Mrs. Job chose her few words, carefully. Quiet contemplation can reflect great self-control. Instead of condemning Mrs. Job for what she did say, we might honor her by the restraint of what she didn't say.
3. Her loyal respect for Job was unshaken. Even in her famous "Dost thou still retain thine integrity?" line, she is affirming that Job has been a man of integrity and that his departure from that solid character attribute would certainly bring death. Integrity defined Job's life and she affirmed that fact. As Job sat depressed, covered in boils and rejected by his friends, she offered a word of truth based on a lifetime of observation.
4. She recognized that Job's reliance on God was central to his strength, thereby affirming Job's faith and his strength. I call that a double affirmation, even if it was spoken in a harsh tone.
5. Mrs. Job saw that the only thing keeping Job alive and sane was his relationship with God, and her comment reflects her belief that as long as Job held to his faith in God, there was still hope. Kind readers, that is a pretty profound theological position on hope, from a brokenhearted woman.
6. Last of all, I want to point out that when the time of Job's great testing had passed and his health and possessions were restored, Mrs. Job bore more children. She birthed the exact number of children, post disaster, that had been lost in the house collapse tragedy. That fact speaks silent volumes. Conception, birth, rocking, nursing, loving, rearing children are the work of a strong woman who has a faith in her God and a love for her husband that has been tried to the brink.
The death of Wade's mom has caused me to think about the summation of a life in only a few words. Wade's mom was a fine matriarch, Job was a pillar of patience and resilience, and Mrs. Job, I suggest, deserves a deeper understanding.
Robin Richmond Mason grew up in the Beaverdale community of Whitfield County. She resides with her husband and four children in Paint Lick, Ky., and teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. She can be reached via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.