As I was beginning my life transition from an occupier of corporate space to pastoral artist, one of my professors imparted some wisdom which was so subtle it almost was not consciously caught. Not catching this piece of advice would have been tragic for my new life’s calling. Very simply, somewhere in a conversation that I don’t even specifically remember he advised that, for all the academics and theories and scholarly answers, sometimes the best thing that you can do is just to “be there”. In fact I think it was actually “be there and shut up”. How’s that for thousands of dollars of tuition well spent? How many times had I already been told to just “sit there and be quiet” for free? My own kids probably could earn doctoral credit for the amount of times that I shared that bit of wisdom on them.
His voice has saved me and served me on too many occasions to mention. All of those grief experiences that I’ve shared through the years with people; the inexplicable deaths, and the ones we saw coming…wayward children, wayward spouses, natural disasters. When words would have been so idiotic, inappropriate and hollow, silent presence became great wisdom, and apparently valued comfort.
It becomes even more personal as time goes by. I think of what shows value to me. What is an indication that someone is with me? What shows me that someone might value what I value? Undoubtedly it is their presence. A lack of presence communicates that they don’t care. At least in my universe, and after all, that is all that matters…..Whatever. I’m going out on a limb to bring you into the inner circle of pastoral thought. Presence matters. If you are in my community o’ faith, your presence matters. There….it’s out there.
I used to struggle with whether or not it was a measure of my security. Am I just taking this too personally? When I stand up on Sunday morning in front of my community o’ faith and open the book of books, what does it really matter who is there week to week? There is no cosmic attendance being taken. Maybe I just need to get over myself? In the last few weeks, for whatever reason, it’s been magnified. It finally hit me the other day. The reason that it matters so much to me is that presence really does matter. There doesn’t have to be words, presence says it all. Whether it is me showing up at a hospital or whether it is someone in my community o’ faith showing up on Sunday wondering what God has to say about all of this and what we ought to do about it, presence matters. If the same things are valued by a group of people, really good things can result. Not much good comes from apathy, apart from a nice long nap.
It doesn’t solve anything, really. I just realized that there is some justification for my feeling. It does though, reinforce my understanding that I need to renew my effort to just be there for people who need or want presence. Whether it’s in my own professional realm or personal relationship, or yours for that matter; perhaps the best lesson that tuition can buy is to just “be there and shut up”.