Great Lakes Living

The Gift of Presence


“For everything there is a season . . .

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7

That July day was warm and clear – perfect boating weather. So we dropped the kids off with a trusted friend and headed for the lake. Anytime we take the boat out, there seems to be some kind of “hiccup”—always an adventure, we say. But this night was perfect. Just him and I. He settled in behind the wheel, and I found a seat with maximum view of lake and sun. For miles, the only sound that could be heard was the roar of the engine, the gentle beating of the waves and occasional melody from the radio. We didn’t engage in deep conversation, but the way his eyes lit up and he smiled when I looked his way spoke volumes. He didn’t need anything from me; just being there was enough. It was one of the best birthday gifts anyone could have given me.

The gift of presence. It seems to come easily to my husband. For example, every few months, he walks into an almost empty hospital room and sits with our son during his MRI. I don’t know if you have ever sat with someone while they undergo this scan, but it is annoyingly noisy and you can take nothing with you. They give you highly fashionable and terribly fitting scrubs, a creaky wooden rocking chair in the corner, outdated magazines and some earplugs if you are lucky. Yet, he happily offers his comforting and reassuring presence to our son each time. Me on the other hand, I pace the halls looking for a pop machine and sit in the waiting room switching from book to text to Facebook all in a matter of minutes. Recently, I sat with a family during a time of crisis. Although my body and mind screamed do something, say something, I had nothing to offer. So there I sat in tortured silence, begging the Lord to intervene. I hated how helpless I felt, but I think I actually gave them the best anyone could offer that night.

“And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they say that his suffering was very great.”

Job 2:13 (emphasis added)

          Job’s friends have gotten a bad rap. Many of us know how they tried to blame Job for his own suffering – because when life doesn’t make sense, we all grab for straws. True, they said some pretty dumb things, but we forget the one thing they did right. They gave Job their presence. For seven days, they sat with him during a grief too great for words. Oh, how much could we learn from their silence! Sometimes, we don’t need to speak, and in fact, we shouldn’t speak. Sometimes, we simply need to be present. This is the gift that Mary gave Jesus as she sat at His feet, and the gift that Martha missed in all the rushing and anxiety to get it “just right” (see Luke 10:38-42). This is the gift that Jesus desired from His best friends on the night of His arrest – to have their undistracted presence in His darkest hour. “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38 NLT). You know what they did instead? They slept. How many times do we do this? Do I do this? I’m missing it. All because I refuse to quiet my anxious heart, stop my rushing and be still and know (see Psalm 46:10). But God is gracious—and persistent. After that painful weekend when His friends abandoned Him, He still offered His presence to them on a beach over breakfast (see John 21).

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Luke 2:19

          Mary knew. She knew this child was special and something big was happening. On the night the shepherds filled the unlikeliest delivery room, she paused. In that moment and many more to come, she immersed herself in the very presence of God and treasured every word. The sounds of baby cries and strangers’ praise . . . The smell of a dirty stable . . . The touch of His soft baby skin . . . The look in her husband’s eyes . . . I imagine Mary took in every detail and in all the years to follow, it was never far from her thoughts. Emblazoned in her memory, I can’t help but wonder if she returned to those moments as she watched the very son to which she gave birth suffer naked and dying on a cross – another moment, this time of suffering, where she remained painfully present.

“We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.”

Psalm 39:6 NLT

“Life is dessert—too brief to hurry.”

Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

          That midsummer’s evening spent boating wasn’t the only time that my husband gave himself to me. Many other times throughout the summer, on car rides and work trips, on walks for ice cream and while watching Netflix, he freely gave me his welcomed presence. This was a gift I treasured and one I hope to share with others. Life goes by too quickly to take it for granted. So, I’m learning to slow the rush and be fully present in the moment. In all the hustle and bustle of the season, I want to pause long enough to savor the moment and hide every detail in my heart. I want to give my family and friends something that will stay with them much longer than anything they can hold in their hands. The gift of presence.

December 20, 2016

12th Street Starbucks

Playlist: JJ Heller


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