By Jan Loser
Disaster Relief Chaplain Coordinator/Trainer

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

We have concern for those that are suffering or hurting, but stop short of doing anything. Why? Are we uncomfortable with their stage of distress, grief, pain, or hardship? Maybe we do not know what to do or what to say. Oh yes, there is the big fear…what if we say the wrong thing! We may have a lot of what ifs. These fears can override our desire to help and cause us to walk away still wanting to show concern, but feelings of our own inadequacies have taken control.  

Here is something to consider…if we care about the hurting, have concern about what they are going through, want to see them recover from their distress, then GO to them…BE with them…LISTEN to them.  It is called the Ministry of Presence. One of the most important things we can do is show up. We step out of our comfort zone and walk into their pain and suffering. 

Walking out of our comfort zone and into someone else’s pain and suffering is demonstrating compassion. Compassion come from two little Latin words “cum” and “pati,” which means “suffering with.”  The best example of showing compassion is Jesus. In the scriptures, Jesus always ministered in person. When He was unable to go to the hurting, He sent His disciples to GO. Either way, we see the ministry of presence.

When we are having a difficult time, it is nice to know that we are not alone. Notes, cards, and calls show someone is thinking about us. But consider the last time you were hurting – physically, emotionally, or spiritual – what made you feel like someone really cared?  It was probably when they were actually standing with you.

Now that we have stepped into their suffering, what do we do or what do we say?  The only way to know what will be most helpful is to ask, “Is there anything you need?” “What can I do for you?”  Recently my sister was in the hospital when her husband suffered a heart attack. She got a call from a friend telling her they were on their way to be with her and asked, “Have you eaten? What would taste good right now?”  They not only practiced the ministry of presence, but brought a cup of soup as well. 

It is a privilege to be able to demonstrate compassion to those in distress. What if we show up and no one wants to talk? The pain is so deep; conversation would be an added burden. This can be a really uncomfortable situation, especially for those of us who feel if thirty words are good, then three hundred are better. Now not only are we practicing the ministry of presence, but we need to minister in silence! To sit in silence could seem like torture. How in the world do we show compassion without saying a word? We have to rely Christ’s guidance. Compassion is doing whatever it takes; being what is needed at the time.  And sometimes we get to use words!

Who can minister in presence? Think about this little story as the answer. There was a family busy preparing meals, cleaning, and welcoming guests for their neighbor whose wife had just passed away. Then someone realized their little 4-year old had not been seen for quite a while. After searching all over, she appeared at the door. While relieved she was safe, they asked where had she been? Her answer, “I was next door with Mr. Smith.” They feared she had been bothering him and asked, “What were you doing?” She answered, “I sat and cried with him.”