The Power of Presence in Times of Tragedy

July 10, 2016

Categories: Presence,Trouble

As I have been reflecting on the tragedy we have walked through here in Dallas over the past few days, I have been thinking about what really helps in times of trouble. Often when tragedy strikes, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any answers.

I felt this way last Thursday as I headed out to the rally to protest police brutality and the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer, and I was feeling nervous and outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t have any solutions to police brutality or the problem of racism. I didn’t know if there was anything I could say that would be helpful or supportive.

I decided that the one thing I could offer was my presence. I could go to the rally, I could show up, and I could offer my support. By being there, I hoped to communicate that although I’m White and don’t share the racial experience of the African-American protesters, I supported their quest for justice and equality.

I felt something similar on Friday when I attended a multi-faith prayer service that was held in downtown Dallas to pray for law enforcement, the victims and their families, and our city and nation. The people at the prayer service were from different races and religious backgrounds, but everyone offered their presence, and that presence was comforting.

I also started to think about God, and how he doesn’t promise that our lives will be free from trouble. (Sometimes I wish he had made that promise!) Instead, he promises that we will have trouble: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Although God does not promise to take away our trouble, he does promise that he will be with us in our trouble. Put a different way, God offers us his presence. The apostle Paul writes: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35, 38-39).

As you engage with people who are struggling in difficult times, don’t worry too much about what you will do, or having the right words to say. Usually just offering your presence—showing up, listening, and being there—is enough.

Discussion: Think back about a time in your life when you were struggling. What was most helpful for you? How could you offer your presence to the people in your life who are dealing with difficult circumstances?


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  1. John July 11, 2016 at 7:48 am - Reply

    In 1999 I was in Pakistan visiting a couple that was providing medical care for a marginalized population. During that time a man’s brother had been killed. My friend and I went to their home and in silence sat in a circle of other men for an hour. We sat on the floor, sipped tea, said nothing…with words, but shouted with our presence that we loved him, supported him, and cared about what happened.

  2. Colleen July 11, 2016 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Thank you Josh. I really appreciate your blog. Sometimes simple…yet at the exact right time.

  3. Joshua Hook July 11, 2016 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    Great story John-thanks for sharing!
    Thanks Colleen!

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