29 March, 2015

Morning Prayer: The Gift of Presence

A few years ago I taught at a small Christian school where each day began with a brief devotional time called Morning Prayer.  Over the two weeks leading up to Easter I'm publishing posts derived from devotionals I shared or experiences I had during that year, all having to do with presence and absence, generosity and loss.

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My older sister Emily and I went to the same college.  This was really fun for me, but really confusing for everyone else on campus; it took some people an entire year to figure out that we weren't twins or a single person who popped up everywhere.  One friend remembered passing one of us on the sidewalk one afternoon, saying hello, and then ten minutes later passing the other one of us and thinking, "Wow, she changed clothes really fast!"

To help eliminate the confusion Emily and I lived on opposite ends of campus during our sophomore year.  I was having the hardest year of my life up to that point; not only was my workload overwhelming, but I was also beleaguered by some emotional battles and deep spiritual confusion. I was ashamed of some of the questions I had and didn't know who I could trust enough to voice them to.  My loneliness was compounded by living in my own room with no roommate for the first time in my life and hardly ever seeing my big sister due to our schedules.  

On one particularly bad night Emily happened to call my room.  As we talked she noticed the weariness in my voice.  She said, "Ginny, do you want to come sleep over in my room?"
Vintage Emily & Ginny


I couldn't have articulated to her everything that was on my heart, but I could pack my things in a backpack and trot across campus to her dorm.  We put on a movie, she worked on a drawing, and I just sat quietly.  We didn't have an epic conversation solving all my problems, but I experienced the first true rest that I had known in a long time.  Not just physical rest - which I needed - but the emotional rest in the presence of another person who loved me enough to give me some of her limited time and space.  She couldn't answer all of my questions or eradicate all of my doubts, but she could give me the significant gift of human presence when I needed it most, presence to take away loneliness.

Presence is a gift that is easy to overlook or forget, but it is profoundly powerful.  If you've read The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe you might remember how one night Aslan sets out for the Stone Table to give up his life for his friends' sake.  On the way he is overtaken by two of them, Susan and Lucy.  They know nothing of what he is about to do, but he is bolstered by their momentary company.  

"Are you ill, dear Aslan?" asked Susan.
"No," said Aslan. "I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that."

A few days from now we will remember the night of Jesus's betrayal and arrest.  We are told that after supper Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  Jesus knew what was in God's plan for Him that night.  He knew that great sadness and pain were coming.  He was about to experience utter rejection, utter loneliness.  He knew that the disciples couldn't change or ease any of that - He just wanted them to stay awake with Him through those hours of agonized prayer.  

I can attest to the power of companionship, having been a grateful recipient of it during trials.  But I have also found this to be encouraging as the one standing on the side, wishing so much that I could do something to relieve a friend of his or her suffering.  It is easy to think that if I lack the "perfect" words or just the right resources to immediately solve the situation, I'm not able to help at all.  I hold on to the hope that despite my deficit of wisdom or resources, the ability to serve as a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or a companion in the silence of grief-filled moments will nonetheless weave something a lifeline of grace. 

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