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

What is salmonella and how can you protect yourself?
What is salmonella and how can you protect yourself?

Over the past few weeks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned consumers about outbreaks of potential salmonella infections. The Atlanta-based CDC estimates that the salmonella bacteria causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths each year in the United States. Salmonella is a key cause of food...
Alzheimer’s Association, Atlanta Braves team up for folks with dementia
Alzheimer’s Association, Atlanta Braves team up for folks with dementia

Atlanta seniors living with dementia were recently treated to a feast of the senses designed to prompt their memories of America’s favorite pastime. There was the smooth feel and smell of a leather glove, the bright red stitching of a Rawlings, the salty taste of popcorn and roasted peanuts, and the sights and sounds of a crowd cheering and announcers...
Private vs. public: 6 ways private and public school differ 
Private vs. public: 6 ways private and public school differ 

For parents of preschoolers right on up to those with high schoolers eyeing the all-important college admissions game, the decision to attend private versus public school can be a weighty one. And you can't even rely on long-held assumptions about the merits of each. A recent Time piece asserted that sending a kid to private school could actually save...
College students moonlight as ‘grandkids’ for hire
College students moonlight as ‘grandkids’ for hire

When Andrew Parker’s grandfather began suffering from dementia three years ago, his grandmother had to start taking care of the house and caring for him. It was hard work, and one day, Parker got the idea to hire a college student to help out. “I said, ‘Hey, can you go hang out with my grandfather and make him a sandwich or something?...
The Piedmont Park 2018 schedule: festivals, concerts and preservation
The Piedmont Park 2018 schedule: festivals, concerts and preservation

Bought in 1834 for $450, closed to traffic in 1983, and today the 189-acre crown jewel of Atlanta green space, Piedmont Park is an Atlanta icon. Centrally located in the heart of Midtown, it’s big enough to host our largest concert and festival productions, and versatile in its offering for families, young professionals and day-drinking...
More Stories