Being Present

When I worked for a national organization of corporate chaplains, we often talked about the ministry of presence. Just being present with the person who was struggling. As our clients met challenges with grief, financial struggles, unemployment, or family dynamics — they needed someone to just show up and BE with them. To be present.

mug of coffee with heart design, coffee beans surrounded by ear plugs in heart shape, old wooden table - brown

Henri Nouwen (priest, professor, writer, and theologian) eloquently explained this ministry of presence, “I wonder more and more if the first thing should be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own. To let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”

In some ministry circles and even with our closest friends, we sometimes think we must come up with a perfect quote. A special Bible verse. A piece of wisdom to help another person over the challenging hump of suffering.

But my quote is not your quote. My Bible verse may not help you at all. The best gift we can give is a simple request, “Tell me about your pain.”

Feeling the need to impart great wisdom rarely shares true hope, especially for those who are in the depths of suffering. Perhaps we are more concerned with how we look and how others perceive our ‘greatness,’ rather than just being present.

As we trained our chaplains, we also focused on the 3B’s of hospital visits: Be cheerful. Be brief. Be gone.

When someone is in the hospital, they need to heal. Rest and quality sleep are the best medicines. Patients do not need to have to entertain their pastor or keep conversation going or answer ridiculous questions like, “How are you? Doing okay?”

“If I was okay, would I be in this place?”

When I struggled through the challenge of watching my son fight a brain tumor, hope showed itself within the ministry of presence. I was blessed with special friends who were determined to just be present.

An invite for morning coffee. A spontaneous offer of iced tea which morphed into supper at Red Robin. Hugs. A plate of gluten free treats. A listening ear. Permission to scream out my anger at the unfairness of cancer. A safe place to be honest about my emotions and my faith. A simple greeting card with: “I’m thinking about you.” Or “Praying for you.”

No wise quotes. No Bible verses. No ‘You should do this’ statements.

These present friends granted me the space and allowed me the time to heal in my own way. At my own pace. No expectations and no judgment. Plenty of presence.

These days, it seems that illness, death, and the process of dying are all around us. Cancer is still present in so many families although — thank you, Jesus — my son is 15 years removed from all that horror.

Now I am determined to pay it forward. To just be present when I meet another struggling pilgrim. To offer that cup of coffee or the iced tea that sweats all over the table. Or the meal at Red Robin with bottomless fries and who cares about calories when you’re sad?

To be the one who shares hope without impressive words of wisdom, sans my personal ideas of what might be helpful. To just be there as a person who cares.

To do for others what others have done for me.

©2024 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Image: Engin_Akyurt / Pixabay

When we struggle, trust is always an issue. Check out the study It’s All About Trust: How to Grow Your Trust in God.  

2 thoughts on “Being Present”

  1. Nice message to read on my 86th. The new chapter you encouraged me to write for my upcoming manuscript relates to suffering and how it should be addressed. That every aspect of our society should be involved in the effort to make life what it can and should be under a loving God.

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