Ministry of Presence

June 13, 2012 - 5:00 am

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” — Job 2:13

Just about everyone can tell you exactly where they were when the Twin Towers came tumbling down on September 11, 2001. I remember being glued to the TV in utter shock at what was unfolding. With each passing day it became apparent that the missing would be considered casualties. The mission turned from rescue to recovery.

One story that caught my attention was an interview with a minister who came to Ground Zero daily in order to console the families of the casualties. During the interview, the reporter asked him what words of comfort he offered to the bereaved families. “What can you say to give them comfort?” asked the reporter. The minister replied with words that deeply resonated with me:  “I don’t actually say anything. It is merely a ministry of presence. I just stand by their side, hold their hand, and cry with them.”

All too often when people hear about the suffering of their friends they are very reluctant to call. They simply don’t know what to say so they just procrastinate and never pay the visit that they know they should. In truth, like Job’s friends, nothing need be said. The closeness of another person, the warmth of the human touch, simply being present is all it takes.

According to Jewish law, when one experiences a loss of a close relative they are required to sit in mourning for a period of seven days. During this period they are visited by friends and family who come to offer them comfort. Interestingly, Jewish law dictates that the visitor must sit quietly. Any conversation must be initiated by the mourner. Jewish law is sensitive to the needs of the mourner and understands that they are not ready to hear explanations or religious philosophy. They just need to know that they have the closeness and support of friends.

Do not underestimate the value of your presence. In tragic moments – and in good times – we give our friends and family so much simply by being present with them. There is a time for conversation and a time for silence. And there are moments in life when silence says so much more than words ever could.


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