Preserving the Foundation of My Ministry

Without sharing my presence, my undivided attention to others, I’m not sure I have much to offer others.

Whether I’m writing books or listening to someone, a division or distraction in my attention can undermine my ability to fully take in what others are saying, to empathize with them, and to act in meaningful or constructive ways. If I have trained myself to be distracted, to look for something exciting and engaging, or to divide my attention as often as possible, my ability to be present, let alone to serve others, has been undermined at the most foundational level.

In review of my online activities and smartphone use, I can easily fall into the trap of craving a steady stream of distraction or stimulation that trains me to look beyond the present moment.

Even when it comes to the life of my mind, the more I fill my mind up with distressing, angering, or emotionally charged events, the harder it is to be present. Since social media is chock full of such material, the more time I spend there, the more likely my mind will be spinning with thoughts of the latest outrage.

Far from encouraging a head in the sand approach to the issues of our time, I’m more concerned that we run the risk of being flooded with distressing or enraging thoughts to the point that I become overwhelmed by what I can’t control and struggle to be present for what I can do to serve others and to love the people closest to myself.

The foundation of my ministry to others is presence, preserving enough of myself to hear others, to assess how I can help, and to share generously what God’s presence in my life has given to me.

The more disrupted and distracted I am, the less I can receive from God and the less I can give to others. It’s not rocket science, but it requires a good deal of intention at a time when we are flooded with more information in a greater variety of ways than ever before.

If I can’t preserve space to be present, to enjoy the silence of prayer before God and to step away from the noise of life, then this loss will catch up with me in one way or another down the line. I can’t offer others the stillness and stability of my presence and attention if I haven’t first made that space for myself.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Moving Toward Suffering During Advent: From Indulgence for Others to Awareness of Others

Advent Candles
Last week I wrote about moving toward suffering during the season of Advent because God moves toward us in order to suffer alongside us and to redeem us. It’s especially tempting to mistake our commercialized version of Christmas with actually moving toward the suffering of others. It’s far too easy to buy someone a gift that isn’t necessarily needed instead of something far more personal, transforming, and costly.

We may make someone feel good with a gift—at least for a little while. Indulging in a friend’s or relative’s desires feels really great. We’ve gotten them just what they think they want. Perhaps we meet a real material need that a person has. However, we shouldn’t confuse meeting a material need with actually being present and involved in someone’s suffering.

There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts, but I personally find it far too tempting to think that my obligation to others during the holiday season ends when I’ve given a gift that represents a significant enough financial outlay and meets some kind of need for the other person. I think we all know deep down that spending money on someone is often far easier than actually being present and bearing that person’s burdens.

Rather than using financial generosity or gift giving as an excuse for disengaging with others during the season of Advent, I’ve been asking how I can actively meet with people in their suffering. It often involves giving up chunks of time or serving others in ways that are difficult for me. I’ll be honest, there have been moments in the past week when I felt like I couldn’t handle meeting someone’s need. Bearing someone else’s burdens feels like a potential black hole that could consume far more than I’m willing to offer or at least feel able to offer.

When we move toward someone’s suffering, we open ourselves up to situations that are beyond our control, and we won’t be able to limit what exactly another person will need.

That isn’t to say that gifts or money are insignificant. There have been seasons when friends dropped off meals for us that really saved us. We’ve done the same for others. However, gifts or meals or other physical objects are no substitute for the moments when someone needs us to bear burdens by his/her side.

For this advent season, I’ve been asking myself whether I’m aware of the suffering around me. Am I seeing the people who are in need? Am I willing to be physically present along their sides in order to support them when they need the most help? Are there times I can move beyond a meal or a financial gift?

I’m still buying gifts for friends and family. However, I’m trying to move beyond what I’m getting for people in order to ask whether I’m actually “for” these people. Am I willing to truly see them, to see their needs, and to make sacrifices in order to be present alongside them with their suffering?

For all of my hesitation and substitutes for being present alongside those who are suffering, I have a suspicion that I won’t be the only one alongside those who are suffering. In fact, if you’re wondering where you can find Jesus during the season of Advent or if you’re struggling to experience Jesus, there’s a very good chance you can find him. Try spending some time alongside those who are suffering, broken-hearted, and struggling.

If you’re looking for Jesus during Advent, he’s with those who are suffering.