IVP - Strangely Dim - The Beauty of Being Present

November 23, 2011

The Beauty of Being Present

In case you haven't noticed, we have a little hospitality theme cooking here at Strangely Dim. To be honest, I've struggled for more than a month to come up with something (okay, anything) that I thought might enhance the theme. Last week, I scribbled two lousy first drafts, drummed my fingers on my keyboard to "Wheels on the Bus," chewed on my bottom lip for a while as joggers and dog-walkers passed by my office window, and waited--and hoped--for a moment of inspiration. Almost absently, I glanced at the copy of The Gospel of Matthew by Matt Woodley sitting on my desk, and I started thumbing through. When I hit the subtitle of Matthew 8 ("The Beauty of Being Present"), I chastised myself.

9780830836420.jpgI should have known that Matt--both of them--would come through. My soul exhaled. (You might even say it resonated). I finally had my thing.

In today's over-scheduled, over-stimulated, over-industrious, over-distracted culture, being present with people is a monumental accomplishment. I mean, most of us are with people all of the time, but how often would we describe the presence we offer as beautiful? The kind in which our minds don't wander, our eyes don't flutter, our hearts don't waver and in which we never have to say, "Now, tell me your name again?" The sad truth is, we have to work pretty dang hard at being present with people.

In "The Beauty of Being Present" Matt recalls a time when he spent ten hours a week for thirty weeks visiting chronically sick hospital patients. His most memorable patient, an amputee named "Bill," had spent 160 days in the hospital without diagnosis or cure, "listening to doctors and residents endlessly discuss his case" right in front of him. Bill ultimately landed under the care of a psychiatrist who, in a nutshell, told him he was grumpy. 

"After completing my three hundred hours of visitation," Matt writes,  

I concluded that our modern hospitals--efficient, bright and sterilized--qualify as one of the loneliest places on earth. Health care professionals could discuss diagnoses, prognoses, medications and treatment options, but they almost never engaged a patient's sense of agony or abandonment. For all of our disease-curing efficiency, we usually don't know how to provide healing presence.

Healing presence. Maybe it's not often something we consider ourselves conduits of, but as followers of Jesus, we probably should.

Last Saturday night, I had just nestled my head into the pillow when I heard my phone buzz on the kitchen counter. A friend of mine had been admitted to the hospital. She was physically okay but shaken and lying in a hospital bed nonetheless, so I was dressed and walking out the door before I hung up the phone. Halfway to the hospital, I wondered if it was silly that I go. Had she known that I was on my way, I'm certain she would have pointed a stern finger in the opposite direction. But when I stepped around the curtain and stood at the end of her bed, watching her tears flow openly at the sight of my face, I knew I had my answer. There is no substitute for the beauty of being present.

Midnight phone calls are one thing, but often the more difficult task is to provide healing presence in the midst of our everyday lives, stopping our "doing" long enough to be present in the brokenness of the world. And not only in the parts that are so obviously broken, but those that look like the state-of-the-art hospital Matt describes--efficient, bright and sterilized. And in desperate need of an undivided touch.

"As those who are connected to Jesus, trusting him in our spiritual poverty, we can offer others the personal presence of Jesus," Matt says. "By touching others we offer them the touch of Jesus. In our impersonal culture marked by deep loneliness, this ministry of presence--offering the presence of Christ, God with us, to others in their isolation and pain--is an amazing privilege and calling."

Hospitality is often associated with doing--entertaining, opening, welcoming--but I wonder about the healing touch we could provide others if we'd stop doing for them and simply start being with them.

When I think of the best dinner parties I've hosted, for example, I think of the ones that were rich in conversation: where politics, religion and money were all fair game, where surface-level was a bore, where the TV remained off, where dishes sat dirty in the sink, where wine turned into coffee and back into wine again. Where people engaged one another free from distraction and provided a healing presence by simply being themselves. I think the beauty of being present might just be the most beautiful kind of hospitality there is.

I had lunch with Matt last spring. I often ask authors about their experience writing their book; answers vary from "challenging" to "exhilarating" to "never again." But like his memorable time with "Bill" in the hospital, Matt's answer to my question stood out above the rest. After four years of delving deep into the book of Matthew--after being in the healing presence of Jesus--Matt couldn't help but walk away changed. It's fitting then, that the full title of the book is The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us. After experiencing the beauty of being present with Jesus--God with us--none of us, not one, can walk away unchanged.

In less than a week, we'll settle into Advent, perhaps the most poignant season of "God with Us." We're looking forward to sharing our thoughts with you and hope to hear from you as well. Until then, we hope your turkey is juicy, your football teams victorious, your hospitality undistracted and your heart overflowing. But most of all, we pray the beauty of God's presence in and through your life.

Happy Thanksgiving . . . from our house to yours!

Posted by Suanne Camfield at November 23, 2011 8:20 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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