On Sundays at Alameda we have been talking about the Christian’s role of being the faithful presence of Christ in the world. As we are present with people, others ought to be able to get a glimpse of Christ’s love, grace, mercy, joy, and hope through our presence.
Today, I want to share with you a powerful story of “faithful presence” – but before I do, allow me to share another story.
When I was a teenager growing up at the Southwest Church of Christ in Ada, Oklahoma, a cool, energetic young couple stepped into the void of being in-between youth ministers and started working with our youth group. They hosted devotionals, planned activities, and invested in building relationships with the teens in our group. I really looked up to them and was inspired by their devotion to Christ, their joy-filled and fun-loving approach to life, and the love they showered upon me.
They eventually moved away, and I eventually graduated – and we lost touch.
A few years later we found ourselves in the same town and were reconnecting until I moved to take another job in a different state. So, we lost touch again.
During that time, I lost a son, and they had a son who was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease that caused him, at the age of six, to lose all of his motor skills and functions. Their journey has been a nightmare in many ways, yet this couple has found a way to see God in the midst of their struggle and pain.
They’ve written a book about their experiences, which I just got through reading and highly recommend. That’s where the following story of “faithful presence” is told…
As the morning light crept into our room, piercing the darkness, I would wake up to see Solomon laying beside me with Marci quietly watching him…When Solomon’s eyes would slowly open, tears of relief would begin to flow. I would rise up over Solomon, push the hair off his brow, lean in and gently give him a kiss on the forehead as he stared off into space. I would then carry Solomon into the bathroom where Marci would toilet and bathe him while I got prepared for another day of work.
However on this particular morning, after Solomon woke, I began to weep uncontrollably. Rather than helping Marci carry Solomon to the bathroom, I rolled over in bed, pulled the covers over my head, and continued to weep. A few minutes passed before Marci walked around to my side of the bed and asked, “Are you ok?”
My response registered between gasps of breath. “I can’t do this anymore,” was all I could say as I pulled the covers back over my head and continued to weep…The next twenty minutes were full of activity as Marci, Isaac, Grace, and Solomon prepared to head to another day of therapy at four different clinics. As the back door to the garage closed, I heard the van’s low rumble and the garage door rise. Moments later I lay in silence in my bedroom, in the dark, still weeping uncontrollably.
It seemed like a very short time – maybe only fifteen to twenty minutes later – when I heard the front door open and footsteps coming across the hardwood floors of our living room. The door to our bedroom slowly creaked open and I heard the rustle of footsteps entering our bedroom, and then I heard the sounds of someone sitting down in the chair across from our bed. I was still crying, still gasping for breath, still unable to gain any sense of coherence as I opened my eyes to see my uninvited guest, my dear friend Brent Carter, sitting in the chair and looking straight at me. I felt ashamed. I felt weak. I felt as if I had let everyone in my life that mattered down. And, the tears began to flow more freely. He smiled knowingly as I gasped, “I’m so sorry. I can’t do this anymore.”
With that he very simply replied, “That’s ok. I’ll just sit here with you until you can.”
I have since learned that sitting with someone until they can take the next step is not our moral obligation. I have grown to understand that helping someone in their time of greatest grief is not simply our Christian mandate. I now understand that extending a helping hand, an act of uncommon love, a gesture of incalculable grace and mercy is not our responsibility. It is our sacred opportunity.
Being the person who shares this space in time with someone in need is a sacred trust. Of all the people in the universe, how did I manage to be the person with the opportunity to help someone in need? How was I so fortunate to be the person to share this journey with? How was I lucky enough to experience this deeply personal and spiritual journey with someone who is so vulnerable and naked and broken? And when we fail to take advantage of this opportunity, we lose. We lose the chance to change the world. We miss the chance to create a bond with someone that runs to the deepest part of our being. When we pull away instead of step into the messiness that is pain and suffering, we are the ones who miss out. And, once again, I didn’t feel alone in this battle. My friend ran to the rescue. He wielded his sword and came to battle for me. He didn’t sit idly by and watch the devastation and carnage, declaring, “Somebody ought to do something about this.” Instead, he did something – anything – and it made all the difference in the world to me.
That one sentence, “I’ll sit here with you ’til you can,” changed the trajectory of my life.
That’s what it means to be the faithful presence of Christ!
And that’s the impact of the power of presence.