I’ve been talking about the necessity of being present with others in posts three weeks ago and additionally two weeks ago, and I also shared Nouwen’s idea that God-with-us gives us the ultimate example of being present with another in struggle. I want to continue with the idea of presence this week but in a confession about my hesitance to join in with others in their suffering.
I had to read the book A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, a professor of religion at Whitworth, a couple of weeks ago for class. I think I highlighted half of the book, added stars next to really important highlighted sections, and dog-eared the corners of the most important highlighted sections. Basically, I wish I had read this after cancer, or even before writing my book because it touched on so many things that I felt and went through during and after the diagnosis. (Although actually, I’m glad I didn’t read it before I wrote my book because Sittser discusses things that I discussed, but he does it so well and eloquently that, had I read A Grace Disguised earlier, I don’t think I would have written my book because I could never say it as well as him.)
I wrote last week about the Woodiwiss family and the idea of being present with others in their struggles. I realize that the idea of “being present” seems a bit amorphous, without clearly defined steps one can take to actually be present…but I think that’s the point: in struggle, there’s not a list of steps for how to help another person or ways to fix the problem.
I read Henri Nouwen’s Compassion for one of my classes, and he writes so much on this idea of presence (among other topics in this book), so I’d recommend the book, but I’ll pass on a few of his words that struck me:
“…what really counts is that in moments of pain and suffering someone stays with us. More important than any particular action or word of advice is the simple presence of someone who cares. When someone says to us in the midst of a crisis, ‘I do not know what to say or what to do, but I want you to realize that I am with you, that I will not leave you alone,’ we have a friend through whom we can find consolation and comfort….we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each other. We have lost this gift because we have been led to believe that presence must be useful.”