Have you ever visited a friend or family member who was suffering the loss of a loved one, who just learned about a life-threatening illness, who was involved in a traumatic event, or who was experiencing trauma in their personal life? Were you speechless because you didn't know what to say or do?
Our Natural Reaction Is to Do Something
Our natural reaction in situations like these is to try to do something for the person or tell them something, even give them advice. We prepare ourselves before visiting by planning what we will say, how we will act, what we will do. And there is nothing inherently wrong with this as it reflects our compassion and willingness to make ourselves vulnerable.
There are times when we have to be willing to just be present, really present in the moment, in a physical, emotional, and spiritual way. There are times when silence is golden, a simple hug comforting, spending time invaluable. The cost--priceless.
Just Being There Is Important
In pastoral care, we have a term for this willingness to simply be present alongside someone who is hurting. We refer to this as a ministry of presence. This ministry is by no means the exclusive domain of ministers, caregivers, and professionals. When a person visits someone who is hurting to offer comfort and support, and remains present without having to do or say something, they are performing a ministry of presence.
This type of ministry can be challenging. It seems contrary to our understandable desire to actively help, to do something to make things better, to say something appropriate that will make a difference. Just as it is hard to totally trust in God and not rely totally on our inadequate human efforts, it is difficult to simply BE present with someone who is hurting.
Focus on the Heart
A good way to prepare before providing a ministry of presence is to focus more on the heart than the head. Your head tells you to intervene in some way, to say the right thing or even fix the situation. Your heart tells you that you simply need to be there, emotionally and lovingly, and not somewhere else. Most importantly, because of your natural tendency to intervene in some way, it’s time to turn to God and trust his guidance.
Seek the Spirit's Help
Before I enter a room to visit a patient who is suffering and having spiritual distress, or sitting down with family members who are watching their loved one suffer or deal with their death, I ask the Holy Spirit to be present and give me guidance, not of the mind, but of the heart and soul. I prepare mentally, but in my heart and soul I turn my visit over to the Lord.
Remember, God gave us the ultimate example of being a ministry of presence when he chose to become human so we could say, “God is with us.” Give what you can, even if it’s only yourself in silence.
Additional reading: You're Not Alone as You Walk the Valley
Listen to God's Words
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 16:17)
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:36)
Also read: Proverbs 3:27, Colossians 3:12, Romans 12:15
In the Words of Others
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Helen Keller
“Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.” A.W. Tozer
Think About It
Recall a time when you visited someone suffering or grieving and you didn’t know what to say or how to act? What were your thoughts and emotions before the visit?
If you experienced a ministry of presence as described earlier, what were your thoughts during and after your visit?
What role do you see the Lord playing in visits that may require you to BE present with someone in silence and love?