The Gift of Presence

May 1st, 2013 a pastor for over forty years I have stood beside those who suffer. I have seen people suffer as a result of illness, broken relationships, moral failure, the loss of a loved one, and the loss of income. These experiences have caused me to reflect on the meaning of suffering in both theoretical and practical ways.

Suffering is a universal theme that joins people at every point on earth. In a strange and mystical way, it makes us aware of our transcendence and destines us to go beyond ourselves. It happens, as we know, at different moments on the path of life. It takes place in various and different ways. It assumes differ­ent dimensions. It evokes either compassion or despair. It consoles or it intimidates. It is tangible with an intangible meaning. It leads to either joy or despair. Yet one thing is certain:Suffering is inseparable from the life of humanity.

Ministering to those who are suffering does not mean that we understand all there is to know about suffering or have all the "answers," because suffering is, at best, an in­tangible mystery. It simply means that we are present to those who suffer so that they might not suffer alone.

We offer those who are suffering a sacred gift when we agree to be present to their pain. Being with them in meaningful ways can provide a source of safety and comfort. It also is a gift to us because it is in such moments that we experience the holy.

Robert Browning Hamilton's poem "Along the Road" tells of walking a mile with Pleasure and learning nothing despite her constant chatter. In contrast, when he walks with silent Sorrow, he learns many things. As we assist those who are suffering, we also learn something of great value for the living of these days.

excerpt from: The Gift of Presence: A Guide to Helping Those Who Suffer by Joe E. Pennel, Jr. Copyright ©2009 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission. Order information below. Click to read excerpts from the other books in this series: The Gift of Compassion by Becca Stevens and The Gift of Encouragement by Marjorie J. Thompson.

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