This week, as we return to my series of thoughts and reflections which arose during the course of my sabbatical, I would like to talk about the importance of being present.
‘Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “what do you seek?” or “Why are you talking with her?”.’ (John 4:27)
This verse comes at the end of the tremendously poignant encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well in Samaria. The short version of the story is that Jews did whatever they could to avoid these‘half-breeds’ (as they were often referred to by the Jews). Furthermore, religious leaders would often take extensive detours to avoid the possibility of bumping into a Samaritan. Oh, and then there is the cultural no-no of Jesus being alone with a woman, and not just any woman, but one with a very dubious moral past. In the midst of these stormy cultural waters, Jesus brings salvation and restoration to this woman (and her village!), but notice how he does it. Jesus takes the opportunity to be present. We see him sitting down, engaging in conversation, showing concern and slowly unfolding God’s plan for the Samaritan woman. Jesus chose to be present.
It would have been so much easier for Jesus to have sat at a distance, distracted by the frustration of how long his disciples were taking to return from their errand, or playing out in his mind how this would look if someone were to suddenly stumble across them in conversation. Then there were all the other distractions which could so easily have stolen this precious moment. For example, perhaps Jesus needed to review the personal development plan for each of his disciples, to update his strategy for the next phase of his earthly ministry, or to transform some sermon ideas into fully formed notes. Flip this conversation into the 21st century and there are a whole host of additional distractions to overcome: Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat, plus SMS and emails piling up on your phone or smartwatch, crying out for an instant response.
Learning how to be present with people is one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. Let me say that again. Learning how to actually be present with another person, even if just for a few minutes, is one of the greatest gifts that you can give them. Being present with someon is a proactive activity whereby you give to that person your full attention (that can be so hard at times!), and so the gift of valuing them as a human being, acknowledging their emotions (joy, fear, excitement, worry, anticipation, boredom), choosing to give them eye contact (a sign of personal vulnerability) and allowing their lives to have an impact upon your world.
Genesis 1:8 tells us that before the fall, God chose to be present in the lives of Adam and Eve, by walking with them in the cool of the day. This was God modelling for us being present for his people.
So how are you doing when it comes to being present? Here are some questions that I’ve spent time considering whilst on sabbatical:
- When people are with me do they feel valued or an inconvenience?
- What does it mean to be really present for people on a Sunday, midweek, on the phone, in am meeting?
- What are some of the areas of my life where I struggle being present with/for people?
- How can I learn to be present more effective for other people?
Next week I’ll be looking at how this idea has spilled over into my family life…