LESSONS LEARNED FROM PRACTICING PRESENCE

The best stuff always seems to come from the sharing of stories.

My Brother’s Keeper is a local homeless shelter that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. My church is beginning to make a habit out of what author and activist Bruce Main calls “the spiritual discipline of crossing the road”. On several occasions we have stepped out of our comfort zones to serve those who are different than us in order to learn more about who we are and what God is up to in this world (check out Sparks for more).  A few weeks ago  I went with a group of people from the church to serve dinner at the shelter and our night of service was punctuated with a poingant moment shared by one of our volunteers.

After serving dinner, a girl from our group began to chat with one of the shelter’s guests over a bowl of hot soup.  As they talked a discovery was made; they went to high school together.

The shelter guest and our volunteer had both graduated from high school just a couple of years ago from one of the most affluent communities in the area. The two continued to chat and the guest shared that he was enrolled in college full-time but was out on his own and struggling to make ends meet.These two people had come from the same place but were on remarkably different paths.

When she shared the story with us later in the evening, we all gained some new perspective about what homelessness can look like. Homeless does not automatically equal mentally ill. It doesn’t always look like the hobo caricatures I saw so many times growing up. The separation that may exist in terms of financial status and stability between myself and those who stay at My Brother’s Keeper may span a wide gap. And even though there may be a gap, it doesn’t take much time to see that there are other ways that we are a lot a like.  A simple story challenged me to self-reflection.

When ever I have served the homeless population, I always begin with a sense of fear for the unknown. But once I settle in and begin to listen, there is a renewed sense of hope that springs from the realization that  I don’t have to be a magician and make everything better for those who are hurting. I just have to be myself and learn to listen. To be in the presence of those who are so different than me, sharing a meal or a conversation, leads to a sense of peace. Sharing a little bit of time and space with people reminds me that even though we are different, and that we live in a broken world, we are all humans with hearts that long for connection.

Maybe the way that  the broken pieces can be put back together again is through relationships. Practicing presence. Community. Sharing stories and sharing space.

May this season of life celebrate the ultimate story of sharing space and time, the story of Emmanuel, God-with-us. Merry Christmas.

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