The Grace of Presence

One day last year, I was visiting Kara. After a short time, she excused herself to the sanctuary of her bedroom to find rest; her hospice nurse had been there earlier and had increased her pain medications, making her feel nauseated and tired. I offered to help her up the stairs. The cancer had spread to her bones and muscles by that time, making simple tasks difficult. She said she would be okay on her own, so we kissed goodbye and I gathered my things to go home.

At that point, I had been on the cancer journey with her for two and a half years. When we thought the cancer was treatable, the journey was casseroles and chemo baskets. The cancer got worse, and the journey became helping out more, like taking over the women’s Bible study she had been leading and spending one-on-one time with her daughter. The terminal diagnosis came, the treatment stopped, and the journey changed again—sitting with her Sunday mornings so her caretaker could go to church, planning her memorial service with her.

In the haze of those last stages, the journey of friendship was stillness, just being present. She slept a lot, drifting off while we dreamed of Heaven together. I stood guard, watching the beauty of rest taking over, giving her respite from the strenuous fighting her body engaged in constantly. Sometimes I saw tears roll down her cheeks, which had lost the plumpness of health. I prayed over her and begged God for mercy, a miracle. And I stood ready with a vomit bag in case she woke up feeling sick.

On this particular day, Jason came downstairs as I was leaving and asked me to go up to the bedroom. His beautiful wife was struggling, and he thought I might be an encouragement. I walked up the stairs, hyper aware of the ease with which my strong legs climbed, and stood in the doorway of her room. She lay in her bed, her fuzzy head against gray pillows and her small, cancer-ridden body swallowed up in the blankets. She gave me a half smile and I joined the warmth of her nest, reaching for her hand.

Her tears flowed followed by words gushing with sadness.

I’d gotten used to not being able to fix her or fix her problems, but I never got used to the depth of her pain or the depth of God’s grace that met her.

I sat, listening. How could I possibly encourage her? The sorrow overwhelmed me and I only had tears. I tried to speak, but the tears triumphed and we sat in silence, hands holding, our cries hushed by the grace that arrived in our moment of need. The grace that provided unity and comfort.

Later in the day, I chastised myself for not being ready to speak truth and encouragement into her heart. I wanted to have made a difference with my words, to have pointed her to Jesus or to at least have cheered her up. And then I got a text: Thank you for being with me. For letting me cry. For just being present.

I realize now that while I often feel like doing something, what my friend needed was my presence, a safe place, a place where she could cry and mourn and talk of her journey Home. And in turn, she provided that for me, too. She didn’t need to respond with clever words or comforting platitudes; all my heart craved was the grace of her presence.

When has your heart craved the grace of presence? Have you experienced that gift? Who is someone in your life that you could love by offering the grace of your presence? What would that look like?