Woody Allen once famously said, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up.” He’s right. I have heard countless adults eulogize their parents at funerals, saying, “My father never missed one of my games.” Many spoke glowingly of a parent who instilled values, passed along life lessons and was always there for them. Does your presence make a difference?
St. Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” Rejoice, not sometimes, but always. Pray, not occasionally, but without ceasing. Give, not from time to time, but in all circumstances.
When we attend our daughter’s play or our son’s lacrosse game, we don’t have to say or do anything dramatic. What matters is that we show up. Of course, we can be physically present, but emotionally absent. We can focus on our cell phone, let our mind wander or be preoccupied with other matters. My mother often spoke to me about a family doctor who was a great listener and was completely present to his patients. His presence made a difference.
When we attend our daughter’s play or our son’s lacrosse game, we don’t have to say or do anything dramatic. What matters is that we show up.
While attending seminary, I worked in an inner-city parish. When an aging deacon died, I called his wife to console her. She invited to dinner. As we ate, she told me about two priests who visited her. One offered a great prayer. Another shared special wisdom. Then bishop visited and offered a special blessing.
With each story, I felt that I, too, had to do or say something significant, but I had no magic words or prayers to assuage her pain. We said a prayer. I offered a hug. As she waved good-bye from her front steps, I realized that I had been present. I showed up. That’s what matters most.
There is a Jewish tradition that a single visit to someone’s sickbed takes away 1/60th of their illness. The ancient sages understood that being present to another human being can lift a person up. Our presence makes a greater difference than we can often ever imagine.
Brooks Adams was the grandson of President John Quincy Adams and son of Charles Adams, the American Ambassador to England during the Civil War. Charles took Brooks fishing one day. They shared stories, laughed and enjoyed the river. Brooks had his father all to himself for a whole day, and he remembered it as the best day of his youth.
After Charles had died, Brooks wrote a biography of his father. Charles kept a daily journal and wrote several pages about each day’s activities. Brooks was eager to see what his father wrote down about the day that he recalled as the best day of his youth. He found a single sentence, which read, “Spent the day fishing with my son – a day wasted.” His father did not realize the difference that his presence made that day. Often we fail to realize the difference we make.
When we focus on loving and serving God and others, we often exude peace, grace and joy; and our presence always makes a difference.
President Woodrow Wilson was sitting in a barber’s shop one day when a man entered and sat in the chair next to him. “Every word the man uttered…,” noted President Wilson, “showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through… I was aware that I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. Dwight L. Moody (one of the great Bible teachers of all time) was in that chair.”
President Wilson adds, “I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular effect that his visit had brought upon the barbershop.
They talked in undertones.
They didn’t know his name but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.” Does your presence make that kind of difference?
Jesus never traveled more than 100 miles from where he lived, never wrote a book nor held a public office, and yet his presence transformed the world. When a storm broke out at sea, he calmed the water. His presence made a difference. On the night before he died, he shared a meal with his friends. For centuries millions have shared this same sacred meal, because they sense his presence when they do.
Jesus traveled to places where no Jew would go. He visited Tyre, Sidon and Samaria. He was present where others would not venture. Those who seek to follow him must be present to those in pain and visit places where they need our presence.
As of hundreds of thousands recently demonstrated across our country about police brutality, we must be present to those who feel helpless and threatened by the police. We must also remember that many police serve in fearful situations. Their families worry for them. When I was young no one ever shot at a police office. Sadly, that is no longer true.
So, it is worth asking yourself, does your presence make a difference?
Parents: When your workday is over, do you return home and say, “This house is a mess. No one has taken out the garbage. Turn off the TV.” Or do you say a prayer while driving home, thanking God that the best part of your day is about to begin. Do you kiss your spouse and hug your children? Are they eager to spend time with you? Does your presence make a difference?
Teenagers: Do you complain, “Why do I have to do my homework? Why can’t I watch more TV? I don’t like this supper! Or do your parents’ faces fill with joy whenever they see you? Do you always try to love and obey them? Do you treat your siblings, friends and teachers well?
Does your presence make a difference?
Religious people: Do you complain about worship, people aren’t friendly, the sermon is long and the music is dull? Or do you come with a prepared heart, having spent time each day in prayer and Bible reading? Do you focus on serving others? Does your presence make a difference?
St. Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”
When we do this, our presence always makes a difference.
The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie is the founder and executive director of the Center for Biblical Studies and the creator of The Bible Challenge, a global ministry. He is author and editor of several books about the Bible, including “Doing the Bible Better: The Bible Challenge and the Transformation of the Episcopal Church” (Morehouse Publishing 2014) and “A Journey with Mark: The 50-Day Bible Challenge” (Forward Movement) a conference leader and rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Pa. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.