Just Be There as a Sign that God is There
In 1997 I officiated at the wedding of a couple in their early twenties. A few months later the groom, a police officer, fell off a bridge into the Ohio River pursuing a suspect. It wasn’t until five months later that his body was discovered and taken to the morgue. I was contacted soon after they discovered the body and asked to meet the family at the morgue. As I drove to the morgue, I became increasingly anxious about what I would say and do when I saw the family. In the midst of my anxious fretting, God provided an answer: “Just be there and be a physical manifestation that I am there. Pray in silence. If you offer a prayer out loud, simply remind this family that in this moment of unspeakable loss, God is with them.” When the family came out of the morgue uncontrollably sobbing, I simply embraced the grieving spouse and others as we just stood there for several minutes.
I am more and more convinced that God is calling the church—not just priests—to show up in the places of great pain, loss and despair. I am convinced that God is calling us to leave behind our plans and desires to fix things and just be there as a sign that God is there. In doing so, we are reminding the world of the risen Christ’s promise at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). In doing so, we remind people in pain of what they need most—God.
One of our members, John Rudolph, has been visiting people in prison for the last five years. He listens to people who have enormous burdens from the past and often little hope for the future. He is currently trying to enlist others to join him in this listening ministry at a new program at River City Correctional Center in Cincinnati. He is there not to give advice, but to be a sign of God’s enduring presence. Other members are exploring how we support people with dementia and their caregivers. This is not about fixing people, but about walking with people and their loved ones through the most challenging of times.
We all know people who are struggling with intractable problems. The last thing they usually want is advice. Many have already discovered that there are no quick fixes for their problems. When we give advice, with all the best of intentions, we unwittingly say to them, “I am not willing to be with you as you are.” We want to provide a solution more than a relationship because of course a relationship won’t quickly end.
We are reminded of the power of steadfast presence every Sunday morning when we gather around the Lord’s Table. Jesus doesn’t give us advice or a quick fix; he gives us himself: “This is my body. Whenever you do this, remember that I am with you.” The presence of our brothers and sisters around that same table provides the same reminder: “I am not here to solve all your problems. I am here to remind you that you are not alone.” Some people stop gathering around that table because presence is not enough. They are looking for all their problems to be solved and look elsewhere when that doesn’t happen.
Remember that God is with you in your struggles, and I pray that God will take you to someone who needs to know the same.