In the United States we live in a culture that upholds the values of work, productivity, and progress. These values aren’t negative. Amazing achievements have resulted from these efforts.
But when we apply these values to our relationships, sometimes the simple beauty and the unique gift of presence can be missed.
The value of engaging in community is discovered in the being, just as much as it is found in the doing.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I recently had the opportunity to co-teach with my good friend Melissa Tucker at the college-aged service at our church. The topic was “Big Themes from Jesus’ Actions”, and our lesson was entitled “Jesus Sat”.
Christ did not initiate very many encounters with people by waving-his-hands-over-his-head-signaling-look-at-me. Jesus often engaged with people by slowing down and creating a sense of intimacy. He models for us how to be present with our community, not just active with them.
Scripture begins many accounts of Christ’s work by saying, “Jesus sat…”
Jesus sat to eat with people. On many occasions, He gathered around the table with various combinations of his beloved followers, the religious/social elite, and local outcasts to talk and to listen.
Jesus sat to observe people. He sat in the temple with His disciples to observe people putting in their offering to the temple treasury. And He praised the humble widow – a woman of low social standing – for being more faithful in her giving than the pretentious religious leaders in Mark 12.
Jesus sat to wait for people. He sat by a well to wait for the Samaritan woman in need of Living Water in John 4.
Jesus sat to teach people. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t begin with Jesus standing before a crowd and speaking in a commanding voice. He sat down on a mountainside and began talking to His disciples in Matthew 5.
Intentionally being with people was often intertwined with how Christ went about His doing.
We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to always have something brilliant to say, or a solution to offer, or a fantastic photo to post to try and make a moment meaningful when we are with our community.
However, simply being present with people – letting them know that they are seen and cared for – is often enough. Because the reality is that we often cannot fix or solve another person’s problems. But we can offer the assurance that they are not carrying their burdens alone.
And that truly is one of the greatest gifts that we discover within community.
One of my favorite examples from Christ’s life of his ability to be fully present with His beloved community is found in John 11. Scripture painfully describes the mood when Jesus enters the home of good friends who are crying and mourning the death of Lazarus. Jesus knows that He has come to raise Lazarus back to life. But He still doesn’t walk into the home saying, “Don’t worry. Don’t cry. Trust God. Be hopeful. Everything is going to be okay. ” Scripture says that when Jesus walked into the house of His broken-hearted friends – He was moved to tears by their grief. That is the moment that scripture records, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35).
Before moving to healing, Jesus pauses to weep with them. To carry the burden of grief with them. To engage as a friend. That too was part of his purpose in being there.
Because meaningful friendships and broken situations require presence just as much as they need help.
Often times being present with people in our community – just sitting in the middle of mess with a friend who is hurting, acknowledging the pain and discomfort of a difficult situation – is the best comfort we can offer.
Simply being present with people who are broken is hard, holy work. And it is often one of the most Christ like things that we can do.