The Power of Presence

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I’m not much of a swimmer. Swimming a couple of feet and treading water for maybe 10 seconds is the best that a summer’s worth of swim lessons got me. I love being near the water and even being in it, but going toward the deep end isn’t something I prefer. I have a very rational (possibly irrational) fear of drowning. The thought of not being able to take a deep breath of oxygen scares the living daylights out of me. And what is scarier about drowning is how quick and how quiet it can happen. One minute you are above the water having fun, the next you are slowly sinking to the bottom hoping someone notices you. And since you’re underwater, its impossible to call for help. I hope I never have to experience that.

But even though I hope I won’t have to experience a physical drowning, I have experienced an emotional one. That may sound dramatic, but hear me out. Have you ever been so burdened by the weight of life and all of it’s demands that you just feel like you’re gasping for air? Well in that moment, how easy is it call for help? Probably not easy at all. That’s because there are moments in life where you can feel so burdened down that you really have no energy or strength to reach out and ask for help. And so your hope relies on people being able to see you and understand that they need to intervene. But doing that requires people to be present. Simply being present can save lives. Most places that give information about drowning list tips that all include someone being present. Knowing what drowning looks like means nothing if you are not present to witness to signs. Being present can mean the difference between someone making it, or not.

Jesus understood the power of presence. Hours before being betrayed and arrested, Jesus ¬†and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was going off to go pray before the action happened, and decided to take 3 of His disciples with Him. His words to His disciples spoke volumes as to what Jesus, in His perfect humanity, needed at this moment: “Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful , even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matt. 26:38, ESV). Here is the King of Kings, the King of Glory Himself, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Savior; and here is the man Jesus Christ, the one who bleeds, the one who cries, the one who is tempted and without sin, and the one who was to be killed. Jesus, in his last hours, only asked that His disciples remain there with Him. He knew they could not change anything, nor was he asking them too. He knew they could not save Him because He gave His life up freely for our sins. And yet, Jesus asks His disciples to be there with Him. Jesus was going through anguish accepting the cup put before Him, for He was fully human and was aware of the pain set before Him. And in that moment, what He asked for was the presence of His closest friends.

There is power in presence. Not magical or mythical properties. But the presence of the friends in the midst of suffering can honestly do wonders for the sufferer. And what I love most about what Jesus asked of His disciples was that He did not ask them to fix the situation. Jesus is the Savior, and therefore could not look to His friends for saving. And we are not saviors and can only look to God for saving. But God has gifted us with the ability to be present in the lives of those who are hurting. I can attest to the reality of being able to simply sit with someone who just got some devastating news. No verses thrown tritely their way. No false promises made to make them feel better. Just simply being there. Presence is powerful. As humans, we were built for community. We are therefore made to flourish in the midst of it, not in the absence of it. Meaning, God created to you to become fully who He has created you to be only in the midst of community. Intentional, purposeful, persevering and present community. Oh that we would be a people who are intentionally present! In a world where distractions sit in our pockets, on our nightstands, and on our desks, being present seems like a waning virtue. We must not let it be. We must fight to be present in the lives of those we love. We must seek out ways to be present in the lives of our neighbors, our family, our coworkers, the barista who makes your coffee, the kid who bags your groceries, the deli worker who makes you that breakfast bowl in the morning. They all need someone who is present.

You may not know how to swim; but being present while someone is about to drown could save their life. In the same way, you can’t fix the problems in the lives around you; thats God’s job. But you can be present as that person walks through whatever they must. And I guarantee you that your presence will matter.