A few months ago, my friend Stephanie's grandma was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In spite of brain surgery and chemotherapy, the tumor has grown, and her grandma is now on hospice. When I had coffee with Stephanie recently, I asked her when she'd seen her grandma last. She told me it had been a few weeks. She said it was too overwhelming to see her grandma suffering and not be able to intervene.

"I don't know what to do, so I don't do anything," she said. "What do you think?"

I have not faced anything as serious as what Stephanie's family is going through, but I've had similar questions about a family of Somali refugees I've been working with here in Portland. Sometimes I'm encouraged by how far they've come, and other times I'm discouraged by how far they still have to go. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed, I avoid visiting the family because it's too difficult to engage in a problem that I cannot solve completely.

And then I think about something my mom likes to say, that God made us human beings, not human doers. Life is about who we are being and who we are becoming, not so much about what we are able to accomplish.

The more I've worked with the refugee family, the more I've learned that not only do I need to be as an individual; I need to learn how to be with others—not to fix or change or cure them, but to be with them where they are.

So when Stephanie asked me what I thought she should do, I told her, "Your grandma doesn't need you to cure her. She needs you to be with her. She needs you to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, holding her hand."

I told myself the same thing about the Somali family. I cannot give them everything they need, but I can sit with them in their cold apartment. I can eat rice with them from a bowl on the floor. And at night when the children are huddled together on a stack of mattresses, I can rub their backs and sing to them until they fall asleep.

Last year my friend Karen Spears Zacharias wrote a book called Will Jesus Buy Me A Double-Wide? In it, she tells the story of a Marine who had completed his military career and then gave up everything he had to work with homeless people in North Carolina.

He and his friends were able to get a woman off the street and into her own apartment. But all the money she had went toward paying the rent; there was no money left over for her bills. One day she came to the Marine and told him she needed help paying for her electricity. "You have to help me," she pleaded. "If I can't pay the bill, they'll come turn off the lights."

Replete of personal resources, the Marine told her, "I can't pay your bill, but I can promise you this. On the day they turn off your lights, I will come over and sit with you in the dark."

The Book of Job tells the story of a man who had everything—a wife, children, money, real estate—and in one day, lost everything but his wife and his life. And his wife wasn't that helpful. When she saw how much physical and emotional pain Job was in, she told him to curse God and die. Instead of cursing God, Job took his sorrows and sat alone in a garbage heap, scraping his boil-ridden skin with glass shards to try to dull the pain.

Three of Job's friends came to visit him while he was trying to live through the pain of unspeakable losses. They came to him and sat with him in silence for a while. And then, unfortunately, they opened their mouths.

They accused Job of having hidden sins, reasoning he must be doing something wrong to have incurred God's wrath. In the end, God chastised the friends for their advice. Their mistake was not in showing up when Job was hurting; it was in assuming they needed to correctly diagnose and fix their hurting friend.

The Book of Job is not only a lesson in how to relate to a God we sometimes cannot understand. It's also a lesson in how to relate to someone who's enduring life-threatening, heartbreaking pain. Rather than teaching us the "right" words to say or "right" ways to fix broken hearts, it teaches us that sometimes the best thing we can do for a hurting soul is to be present with them. And to keep silent.

This week, Stephanie went over to her grandma's house. She lay next to her grandma in bed and held her hand. She got to tell her grandma how much she loved her. She got to say goodbye.

The next night, when Stephanie got word that her grandma had slipped into a coma, I went over and sat with her while she grieved the loss. And when she had run out of tears, I sat on her bed and read her Psalms until she fell asleep.

Sitting in the dark is not only the purest way we can love each other; it's the way that God loved us. He sent Emmanuel, which means "God with us." Emmanuel ventured into the darkness and was not afraid to eat with prostitutes or let unruly children sit in his lap or touch contagious lepers. He did not come at us or to us; he came to be with us.

And now we get to be with each other. We get to engage in others' problems and pain. We get to keep them company in their darkness. We get to be, even when there's nothing we can do but sit in the dark.

Sarah Thebarge lives and practices medicine in Portland, Oregon. She writes at My Tropic of Cancer and the Burnside Writers Collective, and has written for us about having breast cancer at age 27. She has also written for CT's This Is Our City project.