Maybe it’s my age or the season of life I’m in. All around me, people are dying. Young people are losing children to wrecks and pools and drug overdoses. Old people are losing their siblings and friends to cancer and heart disease and dementia. I’m one of those . . . about to lose my only brother to metastatic melanoma. My sister and I will be traveling to see him on Saturday, probably for the last time. We want to be in his presence.
There are three sides to ‘presence.’ For the survivor, the gift of your presence is unique. You can only be in one place in the world at one time and when you choose to take yourself to the bedside of someone who’s dying and patiently stay there, you’re showing your love by your physical presence. It’s usually solemnly quiet so our tendency is to talk . . . to say things . . . thinking you’ll say just the right things to bring comfort. But honestly, there’s rarely anything you can say that will help, and a lot of what people end up saying is stupid. I’ve learned to say two things and only two things . . . “I love you” and “I’m so sorry you’re having to suffer through this.” That’s it. Anything else and I run the risk of being insensitive or even hurtful.
The second side of ‘presence’ is the one that’s going to be missed. When someone dies, they leave a hole in the world. You no longer have the option of picking up the phone and calling them. You’ll think “I wonder what _______ is doing today” and then you’ll realize it’s impossible to know because he’s not breathing our air anymore. Emails will be left answered. At some time, you’ll remove their contact info from your phone. You’ll count how many people are left in your family of origin and realize, “Now there’s only two, not three.” A speaker at church who’d lost a child talked about how hard it is for him to ‘put his name down’ at restaurants. They ask “How many in your party?” He instinctively answers “six,” just as he always has. But no sooner than the word comes out of his mouth, he catches himself, “no, actually . . . I meant five.”
The third side of ‘presence’ is God’s presence. We Jesus-followers, mentors, and leaders have His presence in us. We must know how to lead ourselves and others through these tragedies. No one feels confident nor competent to minister in these situations but we must place ourselves in the presence of those who are suffering anyway . . . to love them, serve them and pray for them. It’s also important for us to be human and not ‘super-Christian’ . . . to hurt, grieve and cry because no matter where that loved one’s ‘presence’ has gone, he’s not here and that hurts. The only place we can go for real help is our Heavenly Father. He knows how we feel because He experienced losing His only son to a tragic death. Call on Him. Ask “What does Love require of me right now?” Then do it. He will honor your obedience and lend His loving presence to you instantly. And in Him, there is peace.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)