You know the saying, “nine-tenths of life is just showing up?” In a lot of ways, I think that’s true for parenting, or even just living together and loving each other in community. So much of it has to do with our ministry of presence.
I didn’t really understand the ministry of presence until I started working in Uganda. There was something so mysteriously beautiful and powerful to me in the way people who didn’t know me, looked and talked nothing like me, had completely different customs, and lived on the other side of the world were so visibly moved that I was there, in Africa, among them. Before I taught, or built stuff, or did anything else; they were just deeply affected by the fact someone would get on a plane and travel halfway around the world to be with them. I learned then how potent the ministry of presence really is.
I don’t really understand why people are so captivated by the tactile presence of others, why they find it so profound. I think it has to do with the fact God made us for community, to be together, and by together, I mean physically: in our bodies. In this fragmented, atomized culture, where we consider virtual friends to be real and relate digitally to people we’ve never met, something about the warmth of another nearby human, they’re essence, their spirit– their presence–is infinitely more meaningful than electronic contact.
In my time as head of Grace, I’ve seen this ministry of presence in action. There are a zillion things going on here at this school, too many events for one person to attend, and over the years I’ve tried to be protective of the family God gave me and their needs. All that said, I’ve tried really hard to be at as many school events as possible over the year, attending as many of your kids’ things as I could. During those years, here’s what I’ve learned about this ministry of presence, and I think it has direct correlation to being there as parents, or for each other in our churches, homes, and this school.
Presence communicates value. Time is a precious commodity, and everyone knows it. In this day and age, with so many demands on our time, how we spend it is perhaps the most powerful statement about what we think is important. When we show up, it says we believe those we are with are important. They are valuable; they matter to us. People, especially kids, intuitively know this to be true. They know adults have jobs and important things to do, and it’s even more meaningful to them when people will invest time in them, even if they’re just showing up to watch them play or perform.
Presence creates a connection for future ministry. Because it communicates value, presence creates a connection for future ministry. A long-time saying of CRU, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ, is that one has to “earn the right to be heard,” and that in order to speak truth into someone’s life, they have to know you care. Showing up and being there demonstrates care, and kids and adults alike will respond to an invitation or a discussion about spiritual things much more readily with a person who has already shown they care by being present in their lives.
Presence allows you to give your being. There are times in life when the only thing you have to give is yourself. No words, no gifts, no consolation, not even Bible verses are going to bring comfort and healing in the moment. Only you. Only your presence; your being. I learned this by visiting people who are sick or have lost someone close to them. Years ago, I honestly didn’t want to go because I was intimidated. I had no idea what to say, how to bring comfort. God taught me that this is a fabulous time to just shut up and be near. You don’t have to say anything; there’s nothing to say in that moment. People just want to know you love them, and that you care. And, you do that by giving them your being, you, your presence. If they want you to talk, they’ll tell you what they want you to say by what they say. In the meantime, give them you.
I learned this also applies to having teenagers of my own who were down or sad. They didn’t want Dad’s brilliant wisdom or lectures in the moment. They wanted my silent presence, until they were ready to talk. Sometimes, they weren’t. And, that was okay, too, because they just needed me there.
I know in this world we can go overboard with presence, especially with kids. Kids need to know that, while we love them dearly and they are dearly valuable to us, they aren’t the center of the universe. Sometimes, other people, other ministries, and even work have to take precedence over what’s going on at home. That’s good, too, as long as it doesn’t characterize you. Most of the time, in this day and age, that’s not our problem.
Your kids, your family, and your community are designed to crave your presence. Where are you?
Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.