If Trump got it wrong, what should he have said to soldier’s widow?


A lot has been said this past week about President Donald Trump’s telephone call to the widow of La David Johnson, one of four service members killed earlier this month during an ambush in Niger.

What he said. What he didn’t say.

Listening to the back and forth, the critics and those who came to the president’s defense, I couldn’t help wondering what would’ve been the right thing to say. And who really knows what that is when you’re face-to-face or, as it were in the president’s case, on the phone with someone who’s lost a loved one?

As someone who lost both parents and two siblings before age 21, a child before I was 30 and two more siblings (including one who was murdered) before I turned 50, there are no words.

Hallmark comes close but trust me there are no words.

And so it reminded me of a previous column about why “you’re in my thoughts and prayers” seems to be the go-to refrain in moments like these.

RELATED: In the wake of Las Vegas tragedy, are our prayers enough?

That sentiment alone, whether heartfelt or not, would’ve been a good enough response for the president, but no, our commander in chief, Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, said, had this to say about her husband: “He knew what he was signing up for.”

It reminded me of a familiar Bible story in which Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad show up to comfort their friend Job after he loses everything he owns, including his 10 children.

If you’re among those wondering what was wrong with what the president said and what would’ve been the proper response, Job’s conversation with his friends might hold the answer.

Scripture says that when Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize Job (he was covered in boils), “they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky.”

Right away, we know Job’s friends got three things right. First, they empathized with him. Second, they showed up. And third, they spent an entire week with him, commiserating with him in silence.

If only they had stopped there.

RELATED: Family says Trump told fallen soldier’s widow that husband ‘knew what he signed up for’

From Chapters 4 to 25, the friends launched into a series of speeches spewing accusations and inaccuracies about Job and why God allows suffering.

I don’t think any of us disagree that the president went a little too far, but none of us can really say what was in his heart any more than Job’s friends knew the reason tragedy visited him.

What’s clear in this story, however, is God’s condemnation of the advice Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad had to offer. In Job 42:7, we find these words: “… the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.”

Job’s response to his friends?

“God has delivered me to the ungodly and turned me over to the hands of the wicked” (Job 16:11).

In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Myeshia Johnson said she was “upset and hurt” after Trump told her that her husband, Army Sgt. La David Johnson, “knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways.”

“It made me cry,” she said. “I was very angry at the tone of his voice, and how he said it.”

So what’s the takeaway?

Show up and offer your condolences, but don’t offer counsel when you don’t understand what people are going through. More often than not, doing so will only add to their pain.

If your goal is to bring comfort, first sympathize with those who are hurting. That means entering into their situation, peering into their world and their experiences through their eyes to somehow understand what they are going through.

Like Job’s friends, the president showed up, but for whatever reason, he couldn’t connect. He showed little compassion and no mercy.

People like that often have an inflated view of themselves. They don’t show mercy because they do not understand their own sin or God’s mercy toward them.

That’s what I really find sad about all this.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

Tom Baker to make cameo appearance in lost 'Doctor Who' episode
Tom Baker to make cameo appearance in lost 'Doctor Who' episode

Tom Baker, who starred in “Doctor Who” from 1974 to 1981, is returning to the BBC’s cult television series in a cameo role in a completed version of an episode that was never finished, the New Musical Express reported. Baker, 83, will appear in “Shada,” an episode that was left unfinished 38 years ago. Baker starred...
Are there ways to solve ‘Transparent’s’ Maura problem?
Are there ways to solve ‘Transparent’s’ Maura problem?

What would “Transparent” look like without Jeffrey Tambor? Imagining it seems like an impossible task for a show that relies so deeply on its main character and star. As Amazon investigates complaints that Tambor, 73, sexually harassed a colleague on the set during the show’s second season, the actor announced earlier this week that...
There are no “Seagulls” in Georgia, birders say
There are no “Seagulls” in Georgia, birders say

A friend told me that when he was on Lake Lanier last weekend he was surprised to see a flock of “seagulls” wheeling, dipping and flapping over the water. He said he thought the birds were strictly coastal residents. Had they been blown up here by a storm or accidentally gotten off course during migration, he asked? Before I replied, I...
Faith Calendar
Faith Calendar

Special service: The 61st annual Exit-Entrance Day celebration will feature the Rev. Nathl L. Moore, pastor of the First American Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Open to all. 11 a.m. Nov. 26. Mount Zion Second Baptist Church, 135 Boulevard N.E., Atlanta. 404-522-9227. Melody making: The Festival Singers of Atlanta will begin this season with...
Does the equal opportunity squat work?
Does the equal opportunity squat work?

I was fresh out of grad school when psychologists and other mental health types began recommending that when speaking to a child, an adult should squat down to eye level with said child. Supposedly, this submissive posture is a means of demonstrating respect for the child while, at the same time, avoiding any implication that the child must pay attention...
More Stories