Have you ever needed someone to just listen? To be with you in the thick of whatever you’re going through?
I used to think presence was the mark of a good friend. But now I realize presence is even more than that; being with reflects the very nature of Christ.
Listening with care, humility, and attentiveness is a sacred act.
When a hurting woman reached out for Jesus, He stopped and was with her. He chose to be in the moment instead of rushing ahead to the next. He extended the divine gift of presence. Yes, Jesus’s power healed the bleeding woman, but He also listened. He didn’t give her a speech – He gave her what she needed.
We’re bombarded with opinions and stories every day. When I feel weariness deep inside my bones, I don’t need more words, perspectives, platitudes, advice, sermons, or first-hand experiences rehashed to me.
I need presence. I need someone to simply offer the gentle, Christ-like gift of listening.
In our hopes of connecting, we can sometimes focus on ourselves more than simply bearing witness to another’s pain. We want to connect an experience someone else is going through with a time in our own lives, but if we’re not careful, we can quickly make their pain about, well, ourselves.
When my preschool son was going through health struggles in the hospital, a well-meaning loved one shared their elderly mother-in-law’s medical woes with me, saying they completely understood what my family was going through. They were trying to connect but missed the mark. The earnest intent of their heart didn’t outweigh the hurtful impact on mine. I found myself in tears, wishing they would have just listened. The experiences and struggles were not the same – and their words, well-meaning as they might have been, left me feeling more unseen and alone.
Finding the right words can be tricky. It’s not easy to know what to say, especially when someone is experiencing a tough situation you haven’t personally walked through. Some of the most meaningful moments in my life have been when friends have simply acknowledged that I was going through a rough patch. After arriving home from a hospital stay with my son, hearing, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here,” meant a lot to me. It created space for me to share how I felt as I wrestled wIth complicated emotions and overwhelming circumstances. It made space for me to just be, dwelling in the company of someone who cared.
Now, when I find myself hesitating to reach out to someone going through a difficult time because I don’t know what to say – and I don’t want to say the wrong thing – I try to remember that presence matters.
Sometimes the best gift we can give is a listening ear. During an intense season of specialist appointments for my son, a friend dropped off a small bag filled with sweet and spicy tea, sea-salt-sprinkled dark chocolate, and a small candle. Nestled inside was a little note that said, “I’m sorry you’re going through so much. You’re not alone.” She was with me from afar. She didn’t offer simplistic silver linings or try to center herself in my pain. She simply showed up. I felt cared for and seen.
I think of her gentle gesture whenever I sip sweet and spicy tea.
Through the past year, I’ve had friends across the country who’ve grieved the loss of parents, experienced divorce, and endured a job loss. While many of these loved ones live too far away to leave a gift on their doorstep, I try to find other ways to show up – a meal delivery, a $5 coffee gift card, a brief hand-written note – to let them know they’re not alone. If and when they want a listening ear, I’m available from afar, even if we can’t sip our tea together in person.
Throughout Scripture, Jesus modeled a listening steeped in compassion and empathy. He showed us that presence can be a sacred gift.
With God’s help, we can extend care with our presence. With our willingness to listen, we can reflect the love of our merciful, empathetic God by allowing our company to minister to someone who is hurting.
The next time someone you love is holding hurt, release the pressure to have the perfect words to say. Rest in the grace of a merciful God who shows up over and over again.
God, be near to us as we are near to others. Help us know when to speak and when to listen. In your great compassion, grow in us deep care for others. Help us be attentive to the hurting and present to the pain. Thank you for your never-ending, always-present mercy. Amen.