When my friend opened up our phone conversation with these words, I could tell something was off. The simple tone of her voice and slight hesitation already told me that this was not going to be good news. She inhaled and exhaled deeply .......... and I held my breath.
I was right about the news ...... even though I didn't want to be.
She told me news that simply shattered my heart . My friend knew that she had to tell me the news immediately so that I wouldn't be blindsided when I encountered a particular person, which would be within a few days. My heart was in pain, tears welled up in my eyes and I knew I was going to lose it ......... and I didn't even want to think about how long I would be weeping. I didn't need to hear this mess right now. I was leading a bible study for the teens the next morning, coordinating a service and a ton of other things.
Did I say that I didn't need to hear this .. right now?!?
My mind scrambled and I mumbled some phrase to her, something about thanking her for telling me and I would talk to her later. I was just trying to get off the phone before the floodgate of tears burst open.
She saw right through me and refused to hang up. She said, "Sheila, I'm not hanging up until God releases me, and I have peace in my spirit" It didn't matter at that point, because the tears and the weeping had already started. (Weeping isn't even descriptive enough) I cried from my soul, you know that cry from deep down, that literally wracks every part of spirit and soul? Not the tissue, but the towel kind of cry.
I wept for three hours .. at least.
My friend called me at 9:00 PM, but since we were on different coasts, it was midnight for her. She stayed on the phone with me until the wee hours of the morning.
I'll never forget what she said ........... perhaps because she didn't say much at all. For the next three hours she simply told me that God loves me and so did she and her husband. That's all she said.
Now if anyone knew the right words to say, it would be this particular friend. She was a doctor, graduated from medical school and was a board certified psychiatrist, she led the counseling ministry at her church and traveled all over the country teaching and doing workshops for counseling ministries. She had the gift of keen spiritual discernment, years of education and expertise.
Yet, she later told me that it was the discernment, years of education and expertise, that let her know that what I needed most at that moment was the ministry of presence.
She knew that she didn't have to have any answers. It was not necessary to say anything at all. She knew that what I needed to know was that she was there...... period. She ministered to me through her presence, and that was the gift I needed.
It even prepared me for the lesson I had to teach the next day on Job and his friends. My experience with her allowed me to view a particular passage of Job through a new lens. When Job was still reeling from all of his troubles and losses, his friends came to support him ... and how did they show their support?
"They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great." Job 2:13
They knew that he didn't need any words, spiritual cliches or even well intended scriptures. He didn't need to be told to get over it and move on. Their friend was in pain, and the simple gift of their presence needed no words. I shared with the class the importance of the ministry of presence and how I had experienced the gift of presence a few hours earlier.
One of my students said, "Ms. Spencer, They messed up the ministry when they started talking, they should have just been present - no words were necessary."
The Ministry of Presence requires one simple yet powerful element ... you.
In the midst of everything happening around us, let's give each other the gift of presence. We can never underestimate the power of the Ministry of Presence. I have become aware of this especially within the last few weeks. People are still reeling from post-election, work life, school and the onset of the holiday season, which is difficult for so many people for so many reasons.
Take the time to be fully present. Take time to listen, I mean really listen. I read that just as our love for God begins by listening to God's word, our love for others begins when we listen to them.
Be present ........... it's the best present.
Sheila P Spencer