Yes, I’m a slow learner. You’d think I would know about this one already. See, it turns out that simply being present means something. Before any words or scripture references are let loose the Spirit is already moving. And this is no minor thing. I’m becoming convinced that being present is the most important thing I do. All my struggles trying to find the right thing to say or do need to take second place to a struggle to be there for our friends living outdoors.
A few examples.
This summer Luke and I visited some of our friends at their camp under a bridge. They have this cool game they play to pass the time so I asked if we could do that for a while. As we all sat down to play a guest I hadn’t met before kept eyeing us. I think he was waiting for the usual from Christian visitors: a preachy message or a challenge to their lifestyle. But we just played and talked about “normal” things.
Over the next half hour two amazing things happened. First, the guest realized that Christians can be cool, even fun. He went from silent and head down to watching to laughing and taking part in the conversation. Second, one of our friends suddenly announced that he wanted to quit the drugs that were killing him and destroying his friendships. He wanted Luke and I to hold him to it. He was serious. All this without one judgment or challenge from us.
Truth is I would have wanted to reach out to the stranger and challenge my friend, but instead of forcing that agenda I watched as it unfolded in front of us anyway. It came naturally and it came from our friends. They had ownership and control, not me. And that’s important. (Our friend is still struggling with his addiction. But he’s on the plus side now, and it’s the bad days that are the exception.)
Last week I talked with a women we’ve been visiting for over a year now. She was having a serious relationship problem, and she started talking about it when I asked how she was doing. The strain was obvious, and I didn’t have any idea what to say. I finally offered, “I wish I could do something to help.” She looked at me, sitting on the sidewalk next to her, and softly replied, “You already are.” I was present, on her level and listening, and that was important to her.
I’m well aware that there are times when we will need to speak first. I listen carefully to the Spirit and am always asking what to do and say. I’m becoming more aware, though, that the usual answer is to simply be present; to let the relationship build and to let our actions speak the message first. Sometimes, and more often that I would have guessed, the most holy thing I can do is simply be there.