Have you ever been in that place where you don’t know what to do for someone? I have. In fact, over 16 years of pastoral ministry I had that feeling of uncertainty more than once. However, time and experience taught me a valuable lesson: your presence is often the best gift you can give.
Traci and I have a small file cabinet in our room. In one of the folders is a file containing close to a hundred notes that I’ve collected over the years. This is a file I’ve opened a few times, when I needed to be reminded of how God has worked in and through me and my own brokenness.
Recently we purged the file cabinet of a bunch of records, and while we did, I thumbed through the file containing all those thank you notes and encouragement cards. You know what I found? Many of those cards and notes were sent after I had done absolutely nothing for that particular person. They thanked me simply for being present when a tragedy or hardship or celebration occurred. They didn’t recall any of my profound words of life-changing wisdom, or even thank me for my incredible mood-altering wit. Instead, they said things like, “Thank you for being there for me” or “Thanks for showing up to the hospital after our baby was born” or “I’ll never forget you being at the funeral home that day” -- all about presence.
A year ago, my wife gave a special gift to a dear friend when she donated one of her kidneys. It’s an amazing story. (You can read about it from mine and Traci’s perspectives). On the morning of the surgery we arrived in Portland at 6am, and after we checked in, I came out to the lobby to see several familiar faces. Pete and Deb Steele, dear friends and co-workers were armed with books and snacks, ready to be present for the long haul. Our pastor and his wife (Tim and Marcy Baker) were also seated in the waiting room, along with friend Ellen Zarfas and the recipient’s sister, too. Others came by that day, many called, and we settled in for a long day.
I can’t remember a single conversation we had as we waited for news. When the doctor didn’t report in at noon, or 12:20 or 1pm as we were given word, these friends stayed by and waited with me. When Traci finally entered the waiting/recovery area, but I was still unable to see her, these kind souls didn’t move. Instead, they made sure I ate, helped keep others informed of the progress and then graciously stuck around when I was finally given permission to see my bride at 3:20 (8 hours after I left her for surgery!).
When I think about that day with Traci, I’m overwhelmed by the goodness of friends who were just there. They put no expectations on me, and simply showed their love and friendship by being present.
Is there someone in your life that could use your presence? Someone who doesn’t need you to have answers or words, but just needs a friend who is present? I wonder if this is part of what Jesus was talking about in Matthew when He says, “I was sick and you stopped to visit, and I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:36, Msg).
Live the Overboard Life by taking time to be present. Long after people have forgotten what you've said, they’ll remember what you did.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!
I’ve become a big fan of Joey O’Conner and his blog for The Grove Center for the Arts in Southern California. He wrote a great piece about this topic you can check out here.