The Value of Your Presence

Judith felt so alone.

Her husband was in ICU after a tragic auto accident. Judith sat alone waiting for a glimmer of hopeful news. The shock was still fresh. A friend of her husband came in.  He and his wife asked a couple of questions then talked incessantly of their relationship with Burney. They somehow felt they needed to “get Judith’s mind off the scary reality” of Burney’s likely death. They seemed to think they needed to entertain, distract, or fill the silences with something. In actuality, it was their own discomfort they were working to avoid.

Finally, when Judith was alone again, she realized silence was preferable to what felt like unrelenting noise.

Then Lois came and just sat beside Judith.  With an occasional hand on her shoulder, smile, and warm glance, Lois’ presence communicated peace, love and the calm assurance that Judith was not alone. Lois’ prayer lifted Judith’s thoughts to God and led her to feel His presence through Lois’ shepherding. Of all the people that came to the hospital during the remaining days, Judith remembers none ministering so powerfully as her new friend Lois.

DO know your presence counts.

This is the fourth Guideline for Shepherding (in our listing of Do’s and Don’ts) that we’ve been considering.  (For the third Guideline, see “Can I Stop the Pain?” And for more on this, see Shepherding a Woman’s Heart, Chapter 9.)

A silent presence can reflect the depth of pain—what words could possibly express how I feel? Or how you feel? Can words alone bring comfort? “I don’t know what to say” can sometimes be the best thing to say. A mentor of mine would tell me, “Listen until you can enter into feelings of the person expressing their pain to you.”

Empathy is…

  • the action of understanding
  • being aware of
  • being sensitive to, and
  • vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another (Merriam-Webster.com).

Sympathy is…

  • the act of or capacity for entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another;
  • a showing of sorrow for another’s loss, grief, or misfortune (Merriam-webster.com).

Often there is significant discussion around which of these would be most effective—empathy or sympathy.  Frankly I think the words of my mentor sum it up, “Listen until you can enter into the feelings of the person expressing their pain to you.” Those expressions will include body language, intonation and possibly words.

The presence of Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar was exemplarity during the first seven days of their encounter. They left their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him (Job) and comfort him. When they saw Job they hardly recognized him. The change was so stark, they began to weep aloud and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  They sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights in silence because they saw how great his suffering was (Job 2:11-13 NIV). They identified with his grief and calamity. Their presence was a comfort during that first week of silent sympathy.

What if I find it difficult to feel the feelings of others? What if I’m really not a “feeling” kind of person? What if my own discomfort makes it difficult to simply “be present” with someone experiencing emotional pain?”

Stay tuned for the next posting…