Presence Over Programs

A local hospital chaplain told me the story of a young man whom he had built a relationship with a few years ago. The chaplain had been asked to visit with this young man’s father on a number of occasions. The father had been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer and was slowly losing his battle to this terrible disease. Over several months, the chaplain had established a strong relationship with the 20-something son and his ailing father. They shared uplifting conversations together, weathered deflating doctors’ reports together, and simply journeyed through life together for those difficult months. 

Once the father’s condition had become quite grave, the doctors told the son that the cancer had unfortunately spread beyond what any more treatment could resolve. They didn’t expect for the father to survive for more than a few more hours. The father was living out his final moments and the son was given no choice but to come to grips with his imminent loss. Once the chaplain got word of the news, he immediately went to visit them both. He knew this would likely be his last visit. Upon his arrival into the hospital room, the chaplain found the heartbroken son quietly standing next to his father’s bed. The son and father had already exchanged their final words together. As the silence persisted, the chaplain subtly went and stood next to the son’s side. Only after a few more minutes together, the father peacefully passed away with both men at his side.

In the moments immediately following his death, the hospital staff was gracious and kind in allowing the men to continue their time together. In a visible expression of grief, the young son had transitioned away from the bed and was now sitting in the floor with his back leaned up against the nearest wall. He sat there quietly weeping into his hands. Not knowing what else to do, the chaplain decided to follow the young man’s lead and he sat down in the floor alongside him. As the medical staff sensitively handled their responsibilities, the two men continued to sit in silence. No words were spoken at any point.  

Finally, after several minutes of sitting in silence, the son stood to his feet. He reached his hand out to help the chaplain from the floor. He looked gratefully to the chaplain and then mustered up a simple, yet profound statement. Although no words had been previously exchanged, it perfectly summed up the previous moments.  

“Thanks for listening.”

His statement was honest and to the point. It was purposed only to capture the feelings of the occasion, but rather it has resonated far beyond that hospital room. It impacted the chaplain so much that he shared it with me and several others. And now, I have shared it with you. This is a message that we all need to hear.

This moment serves as powerful reminder that some of our greatest ministry may not always be found in the programs of our church, but will rather be found within our presence in the lives of people. This certainly doesn’t devalue or disqualify the work that God has done or is doing within our church programs. But, we also can’t lose sight of all the opportunities for ministry that exist within the everyday lives of people. Ministry is messy and unpredictable because the lives of people are messy and unpredictable. Too many times we are paralyzed by our fear of not knowing what to say or how to respond in difficult times. But, be reminded and encouraged by the story above. It’s not necessary for you to have all the right answers. Sometimes what we do isn’t as important as the fact that we are simply aware and available to do something, even if it is just “listening.”