‘Don’t just do something, stand there’

A caring presence a state of being rather than doing


Earlier this spring, I was asked to make a presentation to the Caring Ministry Team at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Stillwater. I was asked to speak on “Caring Presence, Caring Words, and Caring Acts.” Because caring is something all people do many times in their lives, whether affiliated with a congregation or not or part of a caring ministry or not, I thought I would share some of my ideas.

When I think about being a caring presence in the life of someone who is sick, suffering or sad, I remind myself that presence is more a state of being than doing. Being a caring presence is about showing up. What you do there is much less important than just being there. On a couple of occasions, I got to hear the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman give presentations to clergy where he summed caring with this saying: “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

Sometimes this is easier said than done. We are much more comfortable doing something than simply being with someone, but that is the challenge of being a caring presence. I do think there are some ways in which you can prepare yourself to be a caring presence in someone’s life.

To be a caring presence in someone’s life you need to be a person who is centered. Centered in your faith, centered in prayer and at peace with yourself and with God. If you can be centered in this way, then you can let go of the need to be frantically doing things and really be present to the person you would like to be there for.
To be a caring presence I think you also need a good understanding of your own faith journey. Some of these questions might help you discern and make sense of your faith journey:

  • How God has been with you at those times in your life when you were experiencing physical or emotional pain?
  • What did that emotional or physical pain feel like?
  • What was it like when you were with someone else who was experiencing emotional or physical pain?
  • What was it like when someone you loved was dying?
  • Have there been difficult times in your life when you didn’t feel that God was with you? What was that like?
  • What did you learn about God through these experiences?

Your awareness of your faith journey can be a resource to you as you are a caring presence for another person. Your experiences are the source of your empathy and help you relate to, and stand with, the hurting other person.

One of the gifts you can offer to a hurting person and/or their anxious family is being a non-anxious presence with them. A person or family in crisis is often fearful, anxious and worried. A caring presence tries not to feed this anxiety. You can make your caring presence non-anxious by being intentional about slowing down. Slow down your breathing, and slow down your pace, slower than you think you need. I sometimes think of my caring presence as being like the lead rods that they lower into a nuclear reactor to slow its reaction. The peace and calm your presence may bring can be such a relief to a family.

A part of my slowing down process involves reminding myself that I will have the opportunity to meet Christ in the person I am with. And I also keep in mind that I have the opportunity to put a human face on God’s love and care for the person and family I am present with. My faith helps me in many ways to be a caring presence to others. It is something that you can do too.

Watch for Part II of the Caring trilogy, “Caring Words” in an upcoming edition of the Stillwater Gazette.

Bob Furniss is chaplain at Lakeview Hospital and Hospice. Contact him at 651-430-4578 or [email protected]