Recently I came across these words from Henri J. M. Nouwen,
“When I reflect on my own life, I realize that the moments of greatest comfort and consolation were moments when someone said, ‘I cannot take your pain away, I cannot offer you a solution to your problem, but I can promise you that I won’t leave you alone and will hold onto you as long and as well as I can.’ There is much grief and pain in our lives, but what a blessing it is when we do not have to live our grief and pain alone. That is the gift of compassion.” (From “A Spirituality of Caregiving”)
I think Nouwen’s words captured me because they describe what can happen when we make ourselves present to another. It is not our advice that offers “comfort and consolation,” it is our being present and being there for another.
Many, many years ago when I was a college student, one Sunday night I was church taking part in a class with other college students.
Graduation day was approaching. I have no memory of what the focus of the hour was suppose to be, but I have vivid memories of what the focus became. One of the students started talking about graduating and after a few minutes it was evident he had much he wanted to say. It would be an understatement to say he was experiencing gradation anxiety. I don’t remember many of the others saying much and I don’t remember the person charged with “leading” the class saying much, but I do remember we listened. And we did not leave when the “bell rang” to tell us it was time for the class to end and time for us to go to the “church service.” We spent about two hours listening as he poured out more and more of his fears.
I think before that night, I thought all classes and services at church were on a schedule to begin and end at certain times. And I certainly thought that when the church/worship service was happening, that is where you were suppose to be. But that night I saw a person leading a class who cared more about a hurting person than about keeping the class on the “right” schedule. I saw a class leader and class members willing to be present to another who needed someone to listen.
How does Nouwen put it? “… I won’t leave you alone and will hold onto you as long and as well as I can.”
Those many years ago, those in the class held onto that person by giving him a safe space and the time to speak his fears.
When have you seen compassion and presence offered to another? Were you one offering your presence to another? Or, where you one in need of the presence of another?
What ways can you think of to be present to those you encounter this week?