The gift of presence

Whatever we might think about technology, the simple facts are, we can’t avoid it. Technology plays a large role in many aspects of day-to-day life. It allows us to initiate relationships. Email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are just some of the ways we can now connect with one another electronically.

But there is a depersonalising edge to contemporary technology. Social networking may be an efficient way of keeping in touch but is it effective? Or does it promote superficial and shallow relationships? Researchers have found that electronic relationships are no substitute for physical ones and that too much electronic-relating engenders a sense of social isolation.

We are social creatures and are wired for relationship. It is important to cultivate relationships with people who will have a positive influence on our life. Psychologists tell us there is a strong correlation betweenhealthy relationships” and people’s physical health and psychological well-being.

Yet often it is in our time of greatest need that we feel isolated. It might be a physical or mental challenge that we are ill-equipped to handle, with no clear help at hand. Fortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Acclaimed Australian author, Tim Winton, was five when his father, a traffic cop, was run off his motorbike by a drunk driver. His father was terribly hurt and in a coma for weeks. Winton says that when he was brought home finally, he was like a shadow of my father, he was like a ghost. His whole body was different, and everything seemed broken.

But from this difficult circumstance, something remarkable happened. A stranger who had heard of the accident arrived one day to help. He would carry Winton’s father into the bathroom and bathe him and help his mother with household tasks.

In his recent book, The Boy Behind the Curtain, Winton writes,

“His actions taught me something new about strangers – that while they could wreck your life and do harm they were also capable of mysterious kindness.”

Parker J. Palmer is a world-renowned writer, speaker and activist. His focus is on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. Thirty-five years ago he had his first experience of clinical depression. Although help was available he found the support, despite being well intentioned, made him more depressed.

Palmer found that during his depression there was one friend who truly helped. He says,

“With my permission, Bill came to my house every day around 4:00 PM, sat me down in an easy chair, and massaged my feet. He rarely said a word. But somehow he found the one place in my body where I could feel a sense of connection with another person, relieving my awful sense of isolation while bearing silent witness to my condition.
By offering me this quiet companionship for a couple of months, day in and day out, Bill helped save my life. Unafraid to accompany me in my suffering, he made me less afraid of myself. He was present — simply and fully present — in the same way one needs to be at the bedside of a dying person.”
Hope comes from the simple gift of human presence.

It is Christmas in a few days. Despite the sense of goodwill some of us have given up on God. We see the suffering and injustice across the globe and feel the pain and despair in our heart. We reason that God has abandoned us.

Yet when we reflect on the Christ-child we are reminded that God embraced our suffering and injustice and knows the depths of our pain and despair. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is ‘simply and fully present’ and we need not fear.

Christmas is about connectedness, experiencing God’s love in our hearts and knowing that His love finds expression in the caring and thoughtful actions of a friend or stranger.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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