The young man sitting alone across from us held his head and cried like a baby, groaning in what must have been excruciating pain. It was Saturday at midnight and we were in the ER after Joe had taken a tumble on the sidewalk playing tag with the grand-kids. Although I’d been asking God daily to train me in the lost art of presence, I was completely unnerved by this situation.
Surrounded by well over a hundred people—all in various states of sickness and injury—I felt something akin to panic. Joe grimaced silently beside me, trying to find a comfortable position for what he said was the worst pain he’d ever experienced, while an elderly woman nearby threw up all over the floor as her son wiped her face, trying to help her maintain some semblance of dignity. The last thing I wanted to do was ask Jesus where he might be present in that room, or how I could be present to the hurting people on my right and left.
But there was that boy whose moaning I couldn’t ignore, so I finally stepped across the aisle and asked if I could pray for him. He nodded, eking out a “nice to meet you,” and I put my arm around him, offering a brief plea for relief and peace. I’m not sure it really helped.
But before I finish that story, let me explain a little about what I’m calling “the lost art of presence,” and why it has become so central to my spiritual journey. Vocabulary.com offers a great definition of presence that pinpoints the essence for me: "Presence is the state of being somewhere. When you get an invitation that reads "Your presence is requested,” you are being asked to show up. "
So basically, presence means to show up for your life, to actually be where you are—not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. I know, this sounds pedantic, but the reality is that practicing presence is becoming more difficult every day as our digital worlds expand and our devices eat up our attention like demanding children who won’t be ignored. (For more on that, see my book The Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyper-Connected Age).
Of course no one demonstrated the art of being present like Jesus did. I’ve learned so much from reading his encounters with others, but these three things in particular stand out:
Still, wherever we ended up sitting—after initial triage, after getting x-rays etc.—we found ourselves in proximity to that young man I’d prayed for, still groaning in pain, albeit with less intensity. Yet, when I saw that his reading material was The Bible of Satan I felt even less inclined to get involved. Joe noticed as well, and began to pray under his breath, so I joined in, telling the Lord I agreed with whatever Joe was praying. Although my heart ached for the boy, I couldn’t bring myself to do anymore.
I share this because I feel like I have more stories of failure than success in regards to being present to God’s plans and purposes for others he places in my path. Yet God is changing me, and I am beginning to feel a deeper desire to engage with the world as Jesus did. In some blogs to come I will share what that looks like, and what I am learning about the joy in store for us as we learn to show up for our lives and recover the lost art of presence.
To watch a video of my teaching on The Lost Art of Presence, click here.
To listen to an audio message of my teaching on The Lost Art of Presence, click here.
Oh, in case you are curious, Joe ended up with a broken collar-bone and two cracked ribs. I'm learning to be present to him in a whole lot of new ways!
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Passionate about spiritual formation, slightly obsessed with technology and the soul, author of 8 books, affiliate professor at Fuller Seminary, wife of one, mom of two, grandma of four.