Compassion and the Lack of words……

A few weeks ago, as part of his sermon, the minister at our church defined “compassion” as sitting with someone in their pain.   Not saying anything, not trying to “make it all better” but just sitting with them.    Showing up at the funeral home.    Sitting in the waiting room in the hospital.   Bringing a cup of coffee and a hug but no words.   As he said,  “Job’s friends had it right.  They came and sat with Job in his pain.   And then they decided to open their mouths and they ruined EVERYTHING.”

Last week I read a post that Nate Pruitt posted in a Facebook group that I’m part of.   It’s a group of wildly diverse people with an overwhelming belief that the status quo is not acceptable.   The status quo of what?   That’s the part that makes it interesting – the range of interests, challenges and more is truly mind boggling.   

Nate is a youth pastor and writer in Nashville Tennessee and he gave me permission to repost what he wrote in its entirety.   Thanks, Nate…..

I was walking hurriedly beside my professor between buildings on campus. A twenty year old man with tears streaming down his cheeks protesting the lesson. Not the validity of the lesson, or that I had been somehow slighted as a student. No, my protest ran much deeper than that, “But they can’t feel that way! Not for me! Not because I’m there!” I exclaimed.

There had been a couple other students walking along. This was typical, and I was the one who was rarely seen following a professor around like a puppy dog after classes dismissed. Today I was unsettling them to the core, and when I shot a look at them for being the rude intruders to our conversation they stared at their shoes and hung back without looking up again. The professor looked back over his shoulder and nodded toward a bench in the hallway we’d entered where they could wait before joining him in his office. They quietly obliged.

I continued my complaint, a knot in my throat jostled by each word, but not choking me so much that I couldn’t pour out my torrent of frustration, “I know what you said, but you don’t understand. No one, ever, should be moved to tears and joy upon seeing me enter a room. Not me!”

Despite being known for a gruff exterior and reading students the riot act in class for standing against his teachings I saw his cheeks grow red, his eyes pool, and a deep inhalation of breath fill his barrel chest. I was sure he was about to unleash on me for my uncouth approach. Instead, his reply was barely a whisper, “It’s not about you.”

My jaw dropped, and the knot slid back down my throat–disappearing.

“It’s not about you,” he continued, “It’s about you being the embodiment of the very presence they need.”

While the lesson had been about visitation to hospital and home where people were in need, and how we would need to be prepared to be greeted by people who were overwhelmed and deeply moved by our mere arrival, that wasn’t the actual point. The point of the lesson, which I received in a hallway after class, was that it wasn’t about me. What I would offer to someone in a given moment wasn’t about whether or not I had it all together, what my past looked like, how perfect my thoughts had been that day, or if I was prepared to be perfect in the moment when I arrived in their presence.

What mattered was that when they needed presence I would be the one to provide. That was the face of ministry. Presence and compassion. Showing up because I cared. In doing so I would offer them an invaluable gift in that moment.

I still felt unworthy, but he was right, it wasn’t about me. I wouldn’t make those moments so overwhelming for others that they were moved to tears. Rather, their deep appreciation would be due to the fact that I had made an otherwise overwhelming moment livable. The gift of presence is the gift of sharing the load.

When we step into what it is we’re meant to do there is a lightening of the load. Lives are changed because we’re presence where before there had been absence and an unbearable load was winning. What you’re doing matters, in ways you will never understand. Don’t dismiss what you hold, what you’re dreaming, or what you’re building. Even if it doesn’t seem like much to you it may be the one thing another person just couldn’t imagine handling. Yet there you are, lightening the load, and providing them with overwhelming gratitude where there once had been a weighty absence of hope.

Press on. Be presence. You matter. You have mattered to me. Your presence has been overwhelming good when circumstances had held overwhelming weight.

It’s not about you being good enough.

It’s that you are good.

You are enough.

Thank you.

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