I recently met a couple whose experience of Hurricane Harvey left them and their six children living in a shelter for two years. During that time, the husband suffered a stroke, leaving him unable to maintain his employment. Through it all, he shared how he was humbled and, in turn, his faith rekindled. Interestingly, it was not the shelter experience or the grueling therapies that nourished and healed him physically that mattered most. It was the selfless love and the radical hospitality outpoured for him and his family by others that touched him to his core. This is what spiritually enlightened him to see and feel God’s presence and immense love once more.
No matter the person God places in front of us, God calls us to accompany that person. Being with someone who has great needs—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—can be challenging. Extending ourselves for the vulnerable or the marginalized is not always easy or pleasant, though if we trust in God’s providence and allow ourselves to journey with another person in his or her pain or brokenness, we will be moved. Initially, we are moved beyond our comfort level. As we experience life from a different perspective, our compassion, understanding, and empathy increase. Even more than those blessings is the ultimate gift the “giver” receives: to be in deeper communion with God.
We need only to reflect on various accounts in Scripture where Jesus would simply sit down and be with people, to appreciate the importance of that gesture. It evokes a presence that is not rushed. Quite the opposite, it is peaceful and patient. It communicates that, “I have time for you. The truth is, that I need to be with you as much, if not more, than you may need to be with me.” Our faith is communal. We all need one another. In today’s culture, sitting with others seems counter-productive to all the seemingly important everyday activities at hand. And our omission might be the hope that others—who have more time, money, or patience—will do the accompanying. But what often occurs when too many people feel this way is that no one slows down to help our sister or brother or family in need.
Sometimes, as Jesus modeled, doing nothing but just sitting and being with another person is the best thing to do. Being approachable and available can be a powerful example of our faith. Living a prayerful and sacramental life is wonderful and personally fulfilling. But the deepest truth of our faith takes shape when our religion shows others that their lives matter. They matter so much that we will put flesh on the words we profess. How do we do this? The same way that others did for our gentleman friend and his family. We provide housing, clothing, food, or money—tangible items that make a difference. We give from our abundance, and we offer a ministry of presence. And in doing so, we shine a light on the dignity of others. They become visible again. One action leads to another. Slowly, self-sufficiency and ownership are restored. Every time spirit meets spirit in God’s name, he is present through us.
Working with persons with disabilities, and their families, I’ve often observed the hurt and isolation that can be experienced by challenging life circumstances. Having another human being slow down enough to authentically listen, care, and love someone is life-giving. We don’t have to possess any credentials or be known, profound, or a theologian to minister to others. The Bible is not a bandage or a bumper sticker. It calls us to put flesh on the Word of God through our presence in the lives of others. Every member of the Body of Christ is qualified to offer a ministry of presence—to sit with another, in all the varied ways that might play out. We are all capable and encouraged to love like Christ did, and in our doing so, he still does!