Ministry of Presence

Most people, when trying to show love or care for another human being, think that they need to either say something or do something. Yet in times of great sorrow or pain, there really isn’t anything anyone could ever say or do to make the sorrow or pain go away. Still, it doesn’t feel right to just leave the other person alone; so you stay, you hold them in your arms or you just watch them cry. You feel helpless to help them, but you stick around anyway because your gut is telling you that it’s the only thing and the right thing to do.

In my work, I meet a number of people everyday who are going through great sorrows and incredible pain. Their problems range from financial, spiritual or emotional, and we can’t always help them all. So often, I’ve had to sit at the office with people who have just lost their spouse, or their home, or their children, and I have no words for them. Or someone will call in dire need of money to pay for their power bill so their homes could have heat in the dead of winter, and we won’t have any money to give. There’s only so much food in the food bank, only so many volunteers in a day, and I only have so much I can draw from my own experiences with which to relate and comfort those in extreme grief. There hasn’t been a single day when I didn’t feel like I was out of my depth, like the problems are super sized and I am only…well, small-person sized.

Last week, my co-workers and I took a day out of the office to visit the Catholic Community Services Women’s Wellness Shelter in downtown Seattle. It’s a place where homeless women can stop by, wash their clothes, take a shower, do their make-up, have coffee or even just find a safe respite from the streets. The women get a certain block of time to be in there before they have to go out and face their realities once more. It seems like such a small thing; providing a place to freshen up and drink coffee. It’s nothing grand like a homeless shelter or a clinic. But it’s a place where these homeless women can wash themselves clean and begin a new day with a bit of a fresh start. Nobody is there to tell them what to believe in or how to live their lives; nobody is there to analyze their psychological state or try and fix their problems. They just come as they are and they are accepted in that exact same way, with the hope that by the time they walk out the door they are a little stronger, a little more hopeful than they were when they came in.

Many of us read these blogs from our computers, smart phones or tablets, in the comfort of our living rooms or offices, with the security of a stable income and a safe home to call our own. Many of us can not begin to understand the difficulty of losing all that we have, and hopefully none of us ever will. But this trip was a reminder to me that although I am often out of my depth, it doesn’t mean I can’t help. I don’t have to have all the right words, all the right connections, all the money or material possessions to be able to help all those in need, but I have my heart, and I have my time. Sometimes, I just have to be who I am and be present for others whenever I can, accepting them just as they are. Their needs might be too great for me to fix, but God is big enough to heal all wounds and make all things new. And if I can be there for them, maybe God can also be there for them through me. That’s not something you can sum up in a sentence or write out on a check, but sometimes presence is the only thing that can express what words can’t say, can feed what food can’t satisfy, or can provide what money can’t buy.

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