The Theology of Presence

By Liz Powers, Partnership Coordinator

Recently, I’ve had the privilege of spending extended time with my friend Carole. Carole is a wonderful older woman who was introduced to me and many Next Step volunteers two years ago as we started construction at her home. The past year has been a tough one for Carole as various health issues have left her barely mobile, unable to drive, and unable to care for her two beloved dogs. As I sat in Carole’s home about two months ago listening to her describe the different challenges she was facing, I began to feel overwhelmed at my lack of solutions to offer her. I sat there racking my brain for a phone number, resource, or ANYTHING I could pass on to alleviate at least one of the trials she was facing. All I could come up with was the promise to return the next week to check in on her.

That next visit marked the first day of our new weekly Wednesday visit routine. Following my first couple of visits, I continued to leave Carole’s home feeling totally defeated at my inability to offer some type of fix for her troubles. My visits felt so unproductive as the details of Carole’s life did not seem to be improving. However, as time continued and despite her unchanging circumstances, I did begin to notice a change in Carole’s demeanor. My once exhausted, downtrodden friend seemed to be slowly but surely returning to her joyful, witty self.

Currently my co-workers and I are reading through Making Neighborhoods Whole by Wayne Gordon & John Perkins. The book touches on a concept coined ‘The Theology of Presence’. To explain this theology, the authors use the example of the ‘incarnation- God coming to earth in human form to live and breathe and walk and work and minister among us.’ If you think about it, God in his infinite power could have chosen to engage with his creation in any way. Yet the method he chose was presence– the physical presence of ‘Jesus Christ becoming human and pitching his tent among us.’ He choose BEING among his creation as the most effective way to demonstrate his love for us.

So, week after week I continue to show up to Carole’s door empty handed, having simply my friendship to offer her. We eat lunch together, sometimes discuss the local news, tell stories about where we grew up, and engage in devotional readings. We pray through the difficult pieces of life and encourage each other to trust that the Lord is in control of even those parts. At first this time felt unproductive as Carole’s situation seemed to remain stagnant. But as the weeks go on and I continue to experience this friendship transform the both of us- I am more and more convinced that God just might have been on to something in choosing presence as his most powerful expression of love.

Sometimes it’s easy to frame our outreach solely by what ‘stuff’ we have to offer to people- whether that’s building them a new wheelchair ramp, writing them a card, connecting them to a community resource, etc. These are positive gestures and are certainly extensions of Christ’s love. But, friends, as we strive to exemplify Christ in our communities, let’s not be content to stop there. God has given us these opportunities to be used as spring boards for diving into relationships with our neighbors. If my Wednesday mornings with Carole are teaching me anything, it’s that our God is eager to use the power of presence as a powerful tool in reaching his people.

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