The Power of Presence

Tragedy is a great equalizer. It is the common bind of humanity, as we are promised in this life we will have trouble. As we walk through this life, tragedies will come. Tragedy can be a blessed opportunity to arise like a wounded warrior. It is an opportunity to arise with the hope of God’s healing and restorative power. Power to heal every wound.

Tragedy is an equalizer because it acts as a binder. It binds together those who have suffered. In my experience it’s as if there is an unspoken invitation to the club, “welcome to suffering.” It’s a club that no one would choose to be a part of, yet it is a club of epic importance. 

In the deepest part of our being we have an intrinsic nature to be a part of community. To be a part of a group with a common language, common interests, common hobbies, common values, morals and faith. And of course common life experiences. 

Interestingly enough, as I am in a new place, making new friends, I find that it is our tragedy and faith that are instant binds. They are an instant-club. 

Walking through loss and grieving and sickness, there is so much a heart feels that words can never fully express. I believe that is one of the reasons we have the gift of the Holy Spirit – to utter the words our hearts feel but our minds cannot express.

Our “club” is like that too. It seems that fewer words are needed to be shared with other club members and hugs are felt more deeply, cards received with greater appreciation because of the depth of understanding what we are walking through. 

In the Bible, we find the story of Job to be in part a prescription for how to walk alongside someone who is suffering. In Job’s story of suffering we read of helpful and not so helpful displays of friendship. Chances are, right now, you are one or the other. Chances are that you are amid the suffering or within arms reach of someone who is. 

Last week, we began taking a deeper look into the suffering of Job, and I compared him to a wounded warrior. In today’s blog I believe it is essential to take a look at the “who” that surrounds the wounded warrior and learn from Job’s friends; the good, the bad and the ugly of walking through suffering. 

Job 2:11-13 says, When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Many people see suffering around them, and because they have not been through it, don’t know how to engage with the wounded. I get that it is easier to say, “bless your heart, I will pray from you” from afar than to sit on the ground with your suffering friend for 7 days. So instead of pressing in, as we want to but are unsure how to, we retreat.  

Trust me, I get it. We avoid engaging because it can be hard to discern what the suffering person needs. We say well intentioned comments, “let me know if I can DO anything for you.”  Quite honestly, and I hope this doesn’t come across crassly, NOTHING. As a one suffering, I don’t need anything. I just need you, my friends, my family, my community to not forget that my heart is still broken. 

Thankfully, there is much to be learned from these verses in Job. They present to us a beautiful picture of what it is like to make a decision to not “pray from the sidelines” but to walk alongside the suffering, grieving, wounded and broken.

Here are 7 things to remember when walking with someone in suffering, brokenness, and grief:

  1. Make a choice to engage the sufferer. (“they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go.”)
  2. Recognize that suffering changes people.  (“they could hardly recognize him”)
  3. Be moved by another’s suffering (“they began to weep aloud)
  4. Contend for the one suffering. (“they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.”)
  5. Understand the power of presence. (“then they sat on the ground with him.”)
  6. Give your most precious commodity; time. (“for seven days and seven nights.”)
  7. Don’t expect to have the right words. (“No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”)

So what does this look like in real life? How do you walk through suffering with a friend or family member?

I can tell you from experience, because I have learned this from the people who have walked alongside us after losing Zach and then in my mom’s cancer diagnosis, it was the power of presence that has spurred me on.  

Presence means sitting in the hospital waiting room, it means bringing a meal, it means holding hands and crying together, it means giving space to just sit in silence. Presence means understanding it’s not your words that matter, but your choice to engage, to enter into the suffering alongside your friend.

Presence is staring me in the eyes with tears welled up – not saying a word – but knowing your heart understands. Presence is sending a card with a handwritten note. Presence is text messages of verses, and prayers. Presence is every day getting a message – even 9 months later saying – “I prayed for you today.”

The power of presence requires vulnerability. It requires entering into a relationship space knowing the other person has nothing to give you back – because they are poured out from exhaustion, tears, heaviness of heart. 

Maybe it is so hard to understand because we discount the fact that maybe what the suffering person needs most is us. It is our time. It is our time in the flesh, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, face to face. Where memories can be shared, laughs had, new jokes made and a lasting impact in the healing journey of the suffering one. 

On behalf of those walking through  grieving, suffering, brokenness and wounds,  “we don’t need anything, we just need you.” You are the one God wants to use to make a difference in the life of someone who is struggling, hurting and lonely. You. 

Don’t look around the room to see who I could be talking to, it’s YOU! Who have you been avoiding that you need to make the choice to engage with? Who have you isolated from because you didn’t know how to help or what to do for them. Don’t wait another moment, reach out and engage with the power of YOUR presence.