"Being There"

What do we do when someone is going through a tough time? How about if it is a fellow Christian? Do we have the gift of "being there"?

Allowing yourself simply to be with someone in their hardship, allowing them to feel what they feel and to express it is not easy. True empathy can be costly - we can end up feeling the other person's pain. Perhaps we need to safeguard ourselves sometimes so that we are not brought low by the burden of other people's pain. But if we always do this, can we carry one another's burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal 6:2)? If we refuse to feel another's pain, are we limited in the amount of healing we can bring to them? Empathy and being there are not the same thing, but they do go well together. If we don't take the time to listen, then it is hard to empathise.

Especially for those who feel that God is not listening or communicating with them in their trials, being there can be a valuable gift to give. We all need to feel listened to and valued. If nobody seems to want to spend time with us and listen to us, we can feel alone and undervalued or misunderstood. Sadly, we can all get into the habit of only partial listening. We are so used to reading snippets of websites, clicking on to a new link before we finish reading an article to the end that we perhaps also fail to listen to people as long as we should. There is a "move on" culture that is so common these days. If there is nothing in it for me or I am getting bored or I've spotted something potentially more interesting over there then I move on. Our consumerist and internet-based culture encourages this. So, is the gift of being there at risk of dying out?

Being there is not the same as solving things either. In an attempt to remedy the situation, Christians can be too keen to slap a Bible verse on someone's circumstances to tell them how they "should" be thinking or to "remind them of the truth". Yes, at times this can be helpful. But, how carefully do we think this through? Do we know much about the person and their troubles? Have we prayed that this is actually a verse that God wishes us to share with them right now? There are risks in the "quoting biblical truth" method. Firstly, it can be patronising - do people really not know these truths at all? Secondly, it can be a smokescreen for us to hide behind so that we don't have to get too involved. It can be a low-cost way of attempting to show we care; it can also be a way of keeping a distance, not wishing to allow ourselves to feel their pain or hear their story or enter into it. Thirdly, do we risk sometimes making out that people's emotions are not valid? Perhaps telling a depressed person that they should "rejoice in the Lord always" could be the last thing that they can cope with emotionally at that time. So, careful discernment is needed if we are to go the Bible-text route. We might even say that we need to "be there" with the person, listen and feel before we dare to quote Scripture at them. Perhaps only then can we begin to appreciate how they might receive it and whether it is truth in season or us inadvertently fobbing them off. This doesn't stop us quoting texts - it may in fact make it more powerful if done with a renewed awareness.

"Being there" is not just for emergencies, it is part of fostering relationships. Relationship involves knowing someone. Knowing someone means being with that person and listening to them. All of this takes time. In a rapidly moving society with a culture that just won't sit still for 5 minutes, can we learn how to be there for one another in good times and bad? If we don't then we might just be kidding ourselves about the quality of our relationships. We would then be missing out on receiving great things in return. By being there with people we are privileged to share in their lives. We get to share the excitement of their good times - something only really possible if we can enter in to their circumstances and see how much it matters. Similarly, there are strange treasures to be had through being with people in their tough times. Our own suffering can perhaps take on new meaning, enabling us to be close to someone when they need it most. We can draw on our experiences to help others.

So, do you have the gift of "being there"? Is it time to pray for a renewal of this "gift"? God is great at being there and as we grow in likeness to Him, we can be there for others too. 
©Joe Lenton, Sept 2011