Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Ministry of Presence

Silence deepens. The pounding of my heart is increasing. I know not what to do. Another’s life hangs in the balance. What do I say? Lord of All Comfort, give me the words, the words to save this life. Guide me, lead me, and fill me with your wisdom.

Last Sunday, Todd spoke on suicide. To be on any end of this matter can be devastating. Hearing about it can be quite painful to those who have been touched by it.

In the Lobby of the Internet Campus, Todd’s sermon hit close to home for at least two people, currently dealing with loved ones in crisis. Several people offered prayer and encouragement. Others offered scripture and words of wisdom. And yet, I think many just felt helpless, not knowing what to say. I know the individuals sharing their situations with us felt helpless, because they told us so. They didn’t know what to do. Their loved ones didn’t want to talk anymore. They didn’t want to listen anymore either. I can relate.

In spring of 2002, I went through a very difficult time. Situations caused a depression so deep, that the thought of suicide did occur to me. Historically, I’d been pretty good at handling “my stuff”, with God’s help. But having been a believer for almost 20 years only caused more fear and frustration because this time I couldn’t understand why I was doing everything “right” and yet God wouldn’t make it better. Ironically, being so angry at God was one of the reasons I ruled out that aching temptation to end it (that, and praise Him, knowing I had many loved ones).

I was tired of talking about my pain. I didn’t want anyone to know how bad it had gotten and I just had nothing else to say. I didn’t want to listen any more either. Everything anyone said just seemed like a silly platitude and only made me feel worse. Throwing scripture at me when I was already mad at God just made me angrier.

I’ve been on the other side though too. Several years later I would feel incredibly helpless watching a dear friend suffer quite deeply. I was desperate to find something to say, something I could do, to make it better, encourage my friend, and ease the pain.

Sometimes though, you need not words. Your presence is enough.

This is the “Ministry of Presence”, to just sit with someone in their pain and suffering. Love never fails and Jesus showed us, time and time again, how compassion heals.

When Jesus heard of Lazarus’ death, his first means to care for Lazarus’ family was to go be with them. He went to them. He wept with them. He comforted them. Then he acted. (John 11)

Paul writes about God, suffering, and our roles: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

If we look back in the Old Testament, we see a similar example in Job. Job’s friends spent most of their time just being with him. They sat with him. They suffered with him. In fact once or twice when the spoke, they said all the wrong things. Being still and providing comfort was the best support they could provide him.

“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. 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.” Job 2:11, 13

Galatians 6:2 tells us to carry one another’s burdens. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re in this together. But it doesn’t always mean we fix things. Some times we just show up.

When I was at the height of my depression, I had a dear friend who, night after night, would just sit with me and watch TV. Occasionally he’d ask if I wanted to talk. When I would say no, he simply put his arm around me and we’d continue to sit there silently. He’d never push; he just stayed with me. To this day, I feel I may owe this friend my life… a life I now love dearly.

In the situation several years later with my other friend, I’d do the same. That friend would later tell me that it meant the world that I merely took the time to be available, made the drive no matter the hour, sat for as long as was needed, and never pushed to talk.

There are times when words are important, when something must be said. If someone is contemplating suicide, you may need to speak biblical truth into his or her life, maybe some thing you learned last week from Todd’s sermon. In other situations, prayer, either with the individual or apart, is the best means of intervention. And yet, there may be times when silence, presence, is the most powerful means of all to show your love.

Father God, I lift up to you my brothers and sisters who may be wrestling with pain in their own lives or trying to help a loved one who is struggling. I pray no matter which side they are on, that you give them wisdom and strength. I pray you ease their pain. Meet them where they are and show them your love in tangible ways. I thank you God that you are full of love and compassion. I thank you that you are faithful, and your mercies are new every morning. I thank you that you never waste a hurt; we always come out better on the other side, often even thankful for the trials we’ve been through. Father, come to the rescue of those who need you today. AMEN.

On a practical note, if you suspect suicide is imminent (they have a plan and you believe they’re prepared to act on it), do not hesitate yourself to act immediately by calling 911. I’d rather have a friend angry with me for the rest of my life, then to not have them at all.

Other Resources:

Additional assistance and guidance can be provided for those experiencing depression, anxiety, or personal challenges by calling the McLean Bible Church Christian Counseling Center at 703-770-8670. The Intake Coordinator will assist callers in finding a psychiatrist (who can dispense meds), or a counselor (who can do therapy), in accordance with the callers needs. Click here for more information: http://www.mcleanbible.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=1319

For more information on the ministry of presence online see: The Ministry of Presence by Steven Davies http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/Wisdom_For_The_Heart/article.asp?article_id=1568


Francois & Alta Rauch said...

Thanks for sharing that. It took guts. Thanks for "being present"!

Rev. Dr. Dan J. Smith said...

What a testimony of God's love and grace in your life. Blessings to you as you move ahead in your journey.